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Exercise in disaster

Liberty left out fo statewide drill

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POSTED: March 13, 2007 5:15 a.m.
What was considered “the main event” for Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia turned out to be a confusing event for Liberty County Friday morning.
As officials with the National Weather Service read the names of Georgia counties for the statewide severe weather drill — this year a test tornado warning — the county was inadvertently omitted from the list.
“When they set the tone off they read a list of names and in the list of names they got every county except Liberty,” Liberty-Hinesville Emergency Management Agency Director Tom Burriss said. “I don’t think it was done intentionally, but because of it we didn’t receive the message (to start the drill).”
The skipping of the county’s name, however, left Liberty County School System administrators and students who were to participate in the test drill confused and wondering what was happening for hours.
At the Liberty County Pre-K Center, Principal Dr. Shelby Bush and Assistant Principal Delores Crawford made numerous calls to school system officials throughout the morning, hoping to receive answers about the stall.
“We’ve been a little bit nervous,” Bush said while listening for the test message to come over the severe weather radio in the center’s front office. “We’re just waiting.”
Earlier in the morning, students, faculty and staff at the center took part in their own simulated tornado drill and Crawford said students performed extremely well.
“It took less than five minutes to get them in position,” the assistant principal said. “With a tornado drill, they’re quickly up and out of their seats and in position.”
Nearly two-and-a-half hours later, just after 11 a.m., students and faculty were still expecting to participate in the official statewide drill.
Crawford, who is responsible for the center’s emergency preparedness, was checking the NWS web site when she came across a special weather statement reading, “The test tornado warning has expired.”
The time stamped on the document was 9:33 a.m.
Shortly afterward, a call came from the Liberty County School Board office informing administrators the county was excluded from the message list and telling them to conduct practice drills, if they had not already done so.
It was not immediately clear why it took over an hour and a half for word of the test’s completion to reach the schools.
A call to LCSS safety coordinator Mary Alexander was not immediately returned.
Georgia Emergency Management Agency Public Affairs Officer Ken Davis said he received phone calls from other schools around the state about communication problems during the test, but noted most schools participated in the drill despite the setbacks.  
“And that’s the key and that’s the important part. Administrators and students went through with the drills themselves,” he said. “Now the FCC, the National Weather Service and GEMA have to get together and work out those little technical glitches.”
Burriss said his office would be in contact with the NWS to examine what exactly led to Liberty County being absent from the state’s list.

 

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