February 11, 2008
Albany -- The five hundred year flood in 1994 was one of Georgia's worst disasters. Albany wasn't ready. The 1994 and 1998 floods resulted in grants for a network of weather warning sirens, making Albany and Dougherty County better prepared.
After last year's March first tornados in nearby counties, Dougherty county is again looking at new technology to keep residents safe. In WALB News Ten's series "Are We Ready?" we posed the question to Albany and Dougherty County leaders who say with this new equipment the answer could be yes.
When flood waters rose in July of 1994 Albany wasn't prepared to deal with the 500 year flood, one of Georgia's worst disasters.
"It was Horrible," says flood victim Kay Adams. "I had never been in nothing like that in my life."
In fact when emergency responders tried to evacuate residents, many like Kay Adams wouldn't leave.
"They were apprehensive about whether it was going to happen or not and so when we gave the evacuation notices people were really slow to move out," says Albany Fire Chief and EMA Director James Carswell.
"I didn't think it was going to come up a hill, but it didn't come that way it came down Martin Luther King," says Adams.
Adams' home was destroyed. Five people died, 20,000 were evacuated, but history has taught Albany a valuable lesson. In 1998 when Albany flooded again, residents evacuated. Because of the flood, a grant gave Albany money for a siren system to warn residents of severe weather.
"We actually have 14 sirens located throughout the city of Albany," said Deputy EMA Director Jim Vaught.
|Chief James Carswell|
At the time, it was better than nothing. Now leaders say, it's not enough. "They basically did it based on the money they had from some grants and really they went at it from, 'that's how much money we have, what can we get for that amount of money?'" said Carswell.
It covers Albany well, but large parts of Dougherty County can't hear the sirens, and the systems has limitations.
"It warns you when your outside, it's not designed to penetrate buildings and alert people inside so there has to be something else," Carswell said.
That something else is a weather radio. Few residents have them, but thanks to promotional events word is getting out. "We're going to get one, we saw it on TV and we're going to get one," says Adams.
When Dougherty County was hit by the March first tornado, it opened the door for another early warning system opportunity. It's called Code Red and it's an early warning system that calls and warns residents of potentially severe weather via the phone.
"If your number is registered and we send out a notice to all of the telephone numbers in the county your telephone will ring," Vaught said.
If the grant is given, it would be the newest part of an entire system, one that includes weather radios and sirens.
|Asst. EMA Director Jim Vaught|
"If you're asleep, you're not going to hear the sirens and if you don't have a phone registered to the 911 system your phone won't ring, but your radio will go off," Vaught said.
Albany and Dougherty County are also storm ready communities. When there's the potential for severe weather, emergency officials conference with the National Weather Service to discuss the potential threat.
"Government can't take care of everything. It boils down to the individual, the individual homeowner, the family unit whatever you want to call it has to take some kind of precautions on their own," Carswell says.
Most in Albany have learned history has a tendency to repeat itself. Adams has laminated all her important documents making herself storm ready.
"Everything, My children's birth certificates, everything is laminated now," Kay Adams said.
Under fire, Dougherty County has learned some things. In addition to the direct alerts most can get by simply watching WALB, by training community emergency response teams, maintaining their sirens, encouraging residents to get a weather radios and have emergency preparedness kits, Albany leaders feel they're ready to handle severe weather that could hit Dougherty County.
Evacuation by front end loader
On Friday, Dougherty County EMA officials met with FEMA about the money for the Code Red system. They were told it could be another three months before they'll know if they've secured the grant. The system comes with a $25,000 annual fee, a cost that could be covered if the grant is secured.
Many other south Georgia counties are considering systems like Code Red.
On Thursday we'll show you Tift County system called Reverse 911. Of course you can always turn to WALB News Ten and our 24-7 weather station WALB's Weather Plus for severe weather alerts.