During Severe Weather Awareness Week
The National Weather Service and the State Emergency Management Agency issued a statewide tornado drill Tuesday as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week in Missouri, and Audrain County's emergency agencies were prepared to show their readiness.
The statewide drill started at 1:30 p.m., but Audrain County sounded its alarms at 1 p.m. since the first Tuesday of each month is the county's regularly scheduled time to activate its siren and testing system.
"Instead of confusing people, since we've been testing at 1 p.m. for the last decade, we figured we'd just go ahead and test ours a half hour before the state did, just to avoid confusion," said Audrain County Emergency Management Director Steve Shaw.
At 1 p.m., Audrain County Joint Communication E-911 started sending off remote signals to the county's six siren towers that operate out of 911. Generally, this is a series of three to five minutes of sirens going off, Shaw said. Meanwhile, the Audrain County Emergency Management Office sent out alerts through the Everbridge Community Notification System with a message stating "This is a test. This is only a test. Due to the National Severe Weather Awareness Day we are testing our Citizens Notification System. Had this been an actual tornado event, the system would give instructions on what to do in this type of situation."
Shaw said the community notification system went out to about 1,000 people in six minutes, and that his office started receiving responses within seven minutes. Both the Emergency Management Office and 911 fielded calls from the public, regarding the warning sirens. The community was urged to participate in the drill, if possible.
Both 911 and Shaw's office plan to do a followup on their drill performance to check to see how fast the alerts went out, the type of responses they received, and to see if the system is working appropriately. Public feedback, Shaw said, is a great tool. "It gives the public a personal insight to why the drill is being done and what type of storm system it is."
Shaw says state emergency drills like the one conducted here Tuesday, gives families, businesses and schools opportunities to prepare for how they will react and take shelter in the event of an actual tornado. In a real situation, he said, "When you hear the sirens, people should seek immediate shelter."
Shaw advises families and individuals to also prepare emergency kits and to stock up on any other supplies that might be necessary during or in the aftermath of an emergency.
The peak months for tornados, Shaw said, are in April, May and June. However, this time of year is the best time to prepare for those events.
"Right now, it's Severe Weather Awareness Week, and we're also just around the corner from spring storms in Missouri," Shaw said, "This means there are chances for thunderstorms, lightening storms and of course the dreaded tornado season that is going to be upon us in the next few weeks. So, now is a great time to start getting ready; to start planning and preparing."
Shaw said if families and individuals need help preparing a kit, they can call his office for help.
"We're coming into a storm season and we just had a couple of winter storms to come through, so people just need to be aware, so they will be safe and can stay alive," Shaw said.
The Mexico School District requires each of its buildings to hold emergency drills throughout the school year, at the convenience of their school calendars. Eugene Field plans to do its drill on Friday. Hawthorne Elementary held a tornado drill on Feb. 11, and McMillan Elementary is planning to hold one today. Neither Mexico Middle School nor the Mexico High School participated in Tuesday's drill. However, a spokesperson from each of the buildings confirmed that each school meets the state requirements. St. Brendan Catholic School officials reported that they held a tornado drill a few weeks ago in preparation of its accreditation study.
"Our goal is to make sure that we know what the protocol is and that we've trained our kids, so that we can do our best to keep everybody safe during severe weather," said Eugene Field Principal Christine Harper. McMillan Elementary Principal Dr. Kerri Criner echoed the sentiment.
Shaw said his office uses the National Weather Service and the AccuWeather.com for weather patterns and forecasts. For more information about the statewide tornado drill or preparations for emergency weather, call the Audrain County Emergency Management Office at (573) 473-5892. Residents who have not signed up for the county's notification system can do so by visiting Shaw's office in the basement of the Audrain County Courthouse or going to the audraincounty.org website. Look for the Citizen Alert Notification Sign-up logo, then click and begin. The whole process takes 10-15 minutes.