Huntsville Tornado, Nov. 15, 1989 - Southern Region Disaster Survey

Part IV

Preparedness Activities


The Weather Service Office (WSO) at Huntsville is responsible for severe weather warnings, weather preparedness, and warning coordination for ten counties in North Alabama. Preparedness programs consist of both organizational and individual training and education. Organizational training in severe storm identification is important for an effective warning system while individual education is essential to arm people with the proper protective measures used when severe weather threatens. Organizational activities are designed to encourage emergency operations plans, storm reporting networks, and effective warning dissemination. While these activities are underway, individuals must be made aware of safety measures for self protection.

Since 1975, each spring severe weather season has been preceded by a statewide Severe Weather Awareness Week. These weeks have usually been held in late February. During this week, people are encouraged to become familiar with severe weather safety rules, especially tornado safety. The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Birmingham mails out between 700 and 1000 information packages to news media outlets across the state. These packages provide information on severe weather and severe weather safety and are intended to reach the general public through mass media outlets such as newspapers and commercial broadcast stations.

The WSO staff also works closely with all Emergency Management Agencies (EMA) in their 10 county area. The WSO has a particularly good working relationship with the Huntsville-Madison County EMA.

The preparedness activities have decreased over the past three years due primarily to the marginal staffing level at the office. As shown in Appendix D, preparedness activities were more numerous in 1987 when the staffing level was higher.

The number of preparedness contacts decreased in 1988 and further decreased in 1989.

The Meteorologist-in-Charge (MIC) who is normally tasked to perform preparedness activities was unable to focus on this aspect of the job due to the need to frequently work operational shifts. A description of the staffing at Huntsville on November 15, 1989, can be found in Appendix A.

Despite the minimal time available for preparedness activities, the staff and MIC have maintained a good working relationship with EMA offices in North Alabama through telephone contacts and irregular visits by EMA officials to the WSO.

In Huntsville and Madison County, the WSO works with the EMA to keep the spotter network active. This includes assistance to the EMA in training activities such as the loaning of severe weather training and information films. The EMA office also activates the spotter network upon request by the WSO.

The Huntsville-Madison County EMA estimates that they have between 400 and 450 spotters composed of law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, and amateur radio operators. The EMA participates actively in spotter training occasionally doing spotter refresher courses themselves with the aid of films loaned by the WSO.

There are a total of 41 sirens in the city of Huntsville. The EMA office will not activate sirens purely on the basis of a public report of a tornado; they require some sort of confirmation from either the National Weather Service or the regular spotter network. Besides the sirens, there is a tone-alert radio system with receivers in 21 schools and at the major hospitals, and a hotline system used to distribute emergency information to television, radio, and cable television outlets.

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