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Rocky Mount Telegram

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City lauded for storm readiness

By Zach Ahmad
Rocky Mount Telegram
Friday, July 06, 2007
With meteorologists predicting a harsh hurricane season for the Atlantic coast, Rocky Mount is wearing a badge of readiness.
In an evaluation from the National Weather Service, Rocky Mount is one of just two cities in North Carolina designated as a StormReady community. The city has held the mark since 2002.
Emergency services officials for the city said the ranking is an indication of how they've tried to improve Rocky Mount's preparedness since the severe flooding that occurred after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"Rocky Mount was ground zero for one of the worst natural disasters ever to strike North Carolina," said Rocky Mount Fire Chief Keith Harris. "Having been through that, it certainly puts an emphasis on emergency preparedness."
The weather service started the nationwide StormReady program in the late 1990s as a way to encourage and identify communities that take a proactive approach to storm preparedness. Communities must meet several guidelines to be considered, including having a 24-hour communications center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios in several locations and aggressive outreach and education programs.
There are 43 StormReady areas in North Carolina, including Nash and Edgecombe counties, though Rocky Mount and Concord are the only cities included.
"It's a great designation to have," said Darin Figurskey, meteorologist for the National Weather Service station in Raleigh. "The individuals in that community were proactive and took the time to say, 'We're storm ready.'"
Officials said the city has taken strides to work with county officials to make the city more weather prepared since the 1999 flood. Mike Stallings, division fire chief for life safety management, said the city now has weather radios in every school, a farther-reaching and more responsive alert system and better river gauges to help officials predict if a flood is imminent.
"While it's true the counties are truly responsible for emergency management, we felt the city also needed to move toward that," Stallings said. "We wanted to do what we could to help our citizens."
The city is also working to improve public awareness. Kim Wittig, the fire department's life safety educator, says she gives several lectures a year upon request about what people can do to prepare themselves for a natural disaster, including one at a family reunion.
Wittig said she is also developing a natural disaster preparedness curriculum that she hopes to introduce in area schools that would teach children what to do in an emergency situation.
"We believe it will be a very beneficial and useful tool for them," Wittig said. "They need to know how to react wherever they are, whether it's at school or at home."

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