My wedding day was a special day that I will always remember. August 20, 2016 was the day I married the girl of my dreams, shared a once in a lifetime moment with my friends and family, and had to speak into the microphone to give a sentimental speech to all 160 of my guests to stop eating, and calmly walk down four flights of stairs … There is a tornado outside.
There were many ironic reasons as to why Mother Nature would invite herself to my wedding. Most notably was just a few minutes prior, when my best man was making a dig at my ego as why it took me so long to get my college degree. That degree just so happens to be in emergency management and Homeland Security, where I do nothing more than look at weather patterns multiple times an hour. Oh yeah, and create plans to mitigate and prepare for natural disasters.
Significant career lessons were taught to me in those moments of flying debris and loud noises. No, those weren’t from the tornado, but from my lovely wife who wasn’t as sarcastic as I was that a tornado was interrupting our dinner time, that took months to plan. It was a great chance for me to see the various communication systems at work that I preach to the community to utilize in the time of a disaster.
September just so happens to be National Preparedness Month, which serves as a national reminder to prepare for various emergencies. One of the keystone principles of emergency preparedness is having an established communications plan; to have ways to establish contact with your family, and stay informed. In my case, I had a microphone and it just so happened that all of my family members were in the same room as I was. However, that wasn’t the case for all of my guests.
The moment kicked off when my phone was buzzing ridiculously. I kept thinking to myself, who would be calling me on my wedding day? When I pulled out my phone to see who it was, it was the IPAWS (Emergency Public Alert * Warning System). Suddenly phones from family members from New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, and even Canada, all started buzzing the way mine did. IPAWS is the national emergency alerting system that can reach any cell phone that is using a specific tower. This system was able to reach all of my out-of-town guest’s cellphones, just like it would also be able to reach people passing by on the interstate.
My boss, who also happens to have a career in emergency management, was in attendance, as well. She has several weather applications on her phone that she relies on to get up to the second information on the storm’s pattern. Between the two of us, we were monitoring the storm to see how close it was to us, and see where the affected area might be. When I glanced outside to look at the clouds, I noticed the flags were flying as if the wind was coming from the northeast; normally they would be coming from the southwest. While noticing this observation, the final moment came when the tornado sirens of Piqua, Ohio started to sound. This was the final indicator that we couldn’t wait any longer. We needed to seek alternate shelter.
Waiting to make sure my guests were able to make it to the stairwell, I was one of the last few to make it down the stairs. Being on the fourth floor looking down at all of my guests on the floors below, I could see that some were frantically calling their other family members and babysitters. Others were stopped on the stairwell looking for straggling family members still coming down the stairs.
Asking for everyone to have an individual plan for each place they may visit is asking a bit much. But this incident just went to show that these types of events do happen in our area. I was lucky enough that all of my family was in one area and I had a method to communicate to them. Others and myself had downloaded weather and other emergency communication applications to stay informed of the situation. And lastly, we had the awareness to figure out how to move 160 people from one location to another without having a formalized plan.
In some incidents phone service may not be an option. That is why it is crucial to be prepared ahead of an emergency at your home to help establish communications as quickly as possible. Having a NOAA weather radio that relies on solar power or can be cranked is a great asset to have to stay informed. Having a designated meeting spot outside of town at a relative’s house is also a reasonable suggestion.
Shelby County has an emergency alert system that can be registered for on the county’s website or by calling 937-265-8400. This alert system can keep you informed for a variety of situations on a local level. Lastly, the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency utilizes Facebook to help reach the community and share disaster related information, and also where to find certain applications and articles to read about emergency preparedness. The page also sends National Weather Service warnings that are posted directly from the NWS Shelby County EMA/LEPC Facebook.
So while my wedding day was certainly going to be a moment I was going to remember for the rest of my life anyway, the addition of Mother Nature and witnessing the various emergency notification applications in place certainly made it a life lesson to always be prepared.
The writer is an emergency management specialist with the Shelby County EMA.