published Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

Catoosa County trains emergency volunteers

When quarter-sized hail, tornado-spawning clouds or another form of severe weather strikes Catoosa County, Ga., Jon Klepper can report it to the National Weather Service, because he took a course and got certified.

“I thought it was incredibly interesting,” Klepper said of the two-hour course at Dalton State College that included topics such as the distinction between a drop-down cloud, which is just a cloud, and a funnel cloud, which rotates.

“My wife thinks it’s just very nerdy,” said Klepper, who works as manager of Catoosa County Environmental Health. “I’m kind of a weather nut.”

Other weather nuts should be able to learn storm-spotting in September in Catoosa, because offering such classes is a requirement from the National Weather Service as a StormReady community, a designation the county received in April.

Steve Quinn, director of the Catoosa County Emergency Management Agency, was scheduled to speak today to the county board of commissioners about the StormReady designation.

Catoosa County was hit hard by a tornado on April 27, 2011, and sought StormReady designation soon after that, said Clarence Muse, deputy director of the Emergency Management Agency.

“The advantage is we’re able to be proactive in responding to storms early,” Muse said, explaining the designation gives the county advantages such as faster access to meteorologists.

“I’ll know about [warnings] before it comes off NOAA weather radio,” he said.

To qualify for the designation, which about 70 Georgia counties have, Catoosa had to meet a number of requirements, including having the ability to alert the public about severe weather through a mass notification system. In Catoosa’s case that includes sirens and a call list. Now, 911 personnel call people manually, but the county plans to install an automated system.

Catoosa County’s Community Emergency Response Team began earlier, after severe flooding in 2009, Quinn said.

“We definitely had an increase after the tornado of people taking the classes,” he said.

Jill Van Dyke, a program associate in the county’s environmental health department, is one of about 60 citizen volunteers on the response team.

She learned about subjects such as bioterrorism, first aid and search and rescue before graduating and getting a backpack containing items including a hard hat and identification vest.

Response team volunteers do low-level, but necessary, tasks such as staffing emergency shelters, she said, which frees up firefighters and sheriff’s deputies to do more specialized work.

Being on the team is fun, she said.

“Getting to meet new people and learning new things,” is how Van Dyke describes it.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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