The National Weather Service warned that more severe weather, including tornados, damaging straight-line winds and hail, could strike northwest Georgia, including Bartow County, by Monday night or early this morning.
The season’s first outbreak of twisters came exactly three years to the day after tornadoes hammered Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, killing nearly 300. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in northern Bartow County, especially in the Crowe Springs community. There were no fatalities or even serious injuries.
It’s 2 p.m. Monday and the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of the Bartow County Emergency Management Agency is already in action. Fifteen stations, each with a laptop computer, await representatives from every department of county government. Constant chatter coming from big screen monitors are interrupted by digital bells and whistles.
Agency director Paul Cuprowski, assistant director Chrisann Moseley and volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team are already in place, tuning in to a briefing from the Storm Prediction Center in Peachtree City. It is a little confusing — one model says there is a very good chance that Bartow could experience tornados or at least high winds while another says it won’t be that bad.
Mosely said she was really worried about the first wave of storms due to hit Bartow between midnight and 4 a.m. today.
“See, that’s what we’re up against,” Cuprowski said. “Mother Nature; there’s nothing right. There’s worst-case scenario, best-case scenario, you never know. We have to be prepared for both. But we are so much better prepared than we were a couple of years ago.”
That hasn’t always been the case. Due to budgetary restraints, there was no Emergency Operations Center or Community Emergency Response Team.
“When I got here last September, all this was nonexistent,” he said sweeping his arms around the cavernous center. “Nobody had any money to put in it. But after Commissioner Steve Taylor witnessed the destruction in Adairsville first-hand, he found the money to upgrade our system.”
The EF3 tornado packing 160-mph winds ripped through Adairsville destroying 31 structures and killing one person.
In the EOC, all eyes are on the monitors. It is showing a big squall line full of ominous red, orange and yellow blips stretching from Louisiana across Mississippi and up into Tennessee. And it’s on a collision course with northwest Georgia.
“We know something is coming tonight,” Cuprowski said Monday. “We will have our basic staff man the room tonight, and as things begin to happen, we will start calling people in.”
Cuprowski said the first department to be notified would be the roads department, which all other emergency agencies depend on to clear the roads for emergency vehicles to get through. It evolves from there.
“We are prepared to handle the event with our county resources, but if we can’t, we are a phone call away from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and even the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Then, of course, all the neighboring counties are involved in mutual aid response.”
Cuprowski is particularly proud of the communications between emergency agencies.
“We have redundant communications,” he said. “We have radio communications with EMS, fire and police. We also have Internet redundancy and cellular service redundancy with all county agencies and generators in case we lose power.”
By 4:30 p.m., Cuprowski huddles with county department heads to map out a plan of action.
“I hope all this effort is unnecessary,” Cuprowski said. “But, if it does, we are ready.”