By BRAD KELLER and JOSEPH HAMRICK
Local government officials will be gathering in Commerce this week to learn what can and will be done in the event of a major disaster.
A “Senior Officials Workshop” is scheduled Tuesday afternoon at the Emergency Operations Center inside the Commerce City Hall.
“It is four hours of emergency management training,” explained Richard Hill, Director of Homeland Security for Hunt County.
Although the program was planned weeks ago, Hill said the training has taken on new significance given last week’s events in Boston and in West, Texas.
“It is to orient new mayors and city council members to the process of emergency management,” Hill said. “It is being sponsored by the Hunt County Emergency Management side of Homeland Security and the Commerce Division of Emergency Management.”
The event is scheduled between 1 and 5 p.m. Tuesday.
“It is being taught by the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which is under the Department of Public Safety,” Hill said.
The Commerce Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is able to warn citizens before an emergency occurs, keeping many citizens from becoming another statistic.
Including an outdoor warning system, the EOC has an IRIS phone notification system, cable override system and Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep citizens up to date on any emergency in Hunt County.
But, according to Richard Hill, director of Homeland Security for Hunt County, emergency preparedness begins at home.
“Emergency management starts with the individual,” he said, adding that individuals and families should begin by asking themselves “Do we have flashlights, a radio, water, food?”
Having a family management plan and knowing what to do in the case of a weather emergency is key to keeping safe, Chris Vaughan, emergency management coordinator for Commerce, said.
Vaughan and Josh Cato, assistant emergency management coordinator, help run the IRIS alert system, which sends text or voice alerts to up to three different phone numbers and two different email addresses for every individual who is signed up for the service.
Vaughan said the EOC has played a vital role during several emergencies the city and county has faced in the five years it’s been in operation.
The EOC coordinated rescue teams during severe flooding in 2007, spread information about preparing for the H1N1 and West Nile Viruses and warned the public about tornados that hit in and around Commerce each year for the past three years.
Even with IRIS and the other alert systems the city has, Vaughan echoed Hill’s sentiment about individual preparedness.
“Always be aware of your surroundings, so that if something does happen, you have an idea of what to do,” he said.
The Red Cross and National Weather Service have family and weather related emergency plans. Vaughan said every family should read those to be prepared for an emergency.