DeKalb County EMA receives praise for tornado response

DeKalb County EMA receives praise for tornado response

PHOTO: DeKalb County Emergency Management Director Anthony Clifton provides a brief to the county commission on the tornado damage and the county’s response at last week’s commission meeting. (Tyler Pruett | Southern Torch)

By Tyler Pruett, Managing Editor

FORT PAYNE, Ala. The DeKalb County Emergency Management agency received praise from both the DeKalb County Commission and the Alabama EMA for its quick response after the recent tornado.

“We had a significant difference in response this time compared to storms in the past. We’ve made a lot of changes, it’s really improved our response,” Clifton said at the last DeKalb County Commission meeting.

According to Clifton, “Within 15 seconds of the National Weather Service issuing the tornado warning the system (the new computer system that was purchased with grant money after the 2011 storms) automatically set off the sirens in the north end of DeKalb County.”

In the past, sirens would be set off county wide, but thanks to the new system, the sirens are set off by polygonal areas. This helps those in the path of the storm avoid complacency, as alarms going off in areas not in the path of the storm would cause many to ignore them.

The DeKalb County EMA had responders on the ground by 2 am that night, “We began incident stabilization by 4 am. We’re really proud of that.”

By 8 am on Wednesday, the DeKalb County Revenue Office was on the ground making damage assessments. The county had an initial damage assessment in hand by dark that afternoon, and the numbers changed very little on the final assessment. The situation was in full scale recovery by Thursday afternoon. Clifton and the commission also thanked Revenue Commissioner Tyler Wilkes for his quick reaction. Wilkes was in Florida on vacation, but managed the quick reaction remotely.

Clifton asked for a resolution from the county commission for a state of emergency, that County Commission President Ricky Harcrow signed during the early hours of November 30th. A disaster declaration was then applied for from the state, and after a conference call with the governor, they received on Wednesday.

“I want to thank Mr. Harcrow for his help, he was in the office with us by 2 am. We asked him to sign an emergency declaration which he did. This gave us permission to call up all the county assets to assist,” said Clifton.

Alabama Emergency Management Director Art Faulkner also weighed in on the exemplary response.

“When counties have a local emergency management agency that responds to disasters and emergencies as well as Dekalb County EMA, it gives the community a better opportunity to recover”, said Falkner. “Dekalb county EMA has demonstrated they are prepared to serve the needs of their county.

Mr. Harcrow also complimented his staff on a good response.

“I was there during all that time, and I just want to compliment you, our staff, and Mr. Wilkes. I watched it all, and it’s so impressive that in the meeting in Montgomery, they were using you all as an example,” Harcrow said.

“I want to compliment our volunteer agencies, all over the county… I shudder to think where we would be without all these organizations,” he added.

DeKalb County even had enough staff on hand to assist our neighbors to the north who were also affected by the storm.

“We did receive a request for help from Jackson County for assistance, and we sent some of our volunteers and equipment over there,” Clifton said.

“We’ve come a long a way since 2011,” said Clifton.