A year after an unprecedented tornado hit Athens County, Ohio University is now considered StormReady.
The StormReady designation, given to communities and universities by the National Weather Service for preparedness in severe weather, became official for Ohio University Wednesday, said OU senior Kyle Clem. Clem is also the president of the local chapter of the American Meteorological Society.
“I’m feeling a great sense of pride,” he said. “It took a lot of hard work on the part of our chapter as well as emergency management officials across the university.”
Approximately 90 percent of all president-declared disasters are weather related, leading to around 500 deaths a year and nearly $14 billion in damage, according to the National Weather Service StormReady website. The StormReady program was started in 1999.
Ohio University is the third university in Ohio to be dubbed StormReady, along with Wright State University in Dayton and Xavier University in Cincinnati. Ohio University is the only university in the Charleston, W.Va. National Weather Service notification region to be considered StormReady.
To become StormReady, interested organizations need to apply for the designation, indicating where notification spots are and describe the emergency plans in place for deploying emergency information. The local National Weather Service office reviews the application and makes a site visit to ensure the plans are intact, and all equipment is where it is supposed to be located and is functioning correctly. Hydrological monitoring - looking at river heights and flood monitoring of nearby waterways — is also part of the review process, said Jamie Bielinski, National Weather Service warning coordinator meteorologist in the Charleston, W.Va. office.
The process of becoming StormReady took several years, Scalia Lab Director and OU Assistant Professor of Meteorology Ryan Fogt said.
“It was the students that had the idea originally, and then took the initiative to put it in place,” he said, adding the tornado served as a good example for the university and the students of the need to be prepared.
“This signifies this university is ready if something should happen,” he said. “We have a system to inform students, faculty and staff, and a plan to take in case something does happen. (Weather) shouldn’t catch us by surprise.”
Ohio University gave $1,000 to the meteorology chapter to purchase 20 National Weather Service radios, estimated to cost $40 a piece. The radios are regular radios but are tied directly into the National Weather Service office in Charleston, W.Va. The radios are placed around campus in high-traffic areas such as all the major dining halls, the main residential housing on the East, West and South Greens, Ping Center, the Facilities Management building and the Ohio University Police Department. The radios sound whenever there are weather alerts as soon as the alert is released, which then helps speed the notification process of dangerous weather conditions to university students, staff and faculty.
The radios augment existing notifications at the university, such as warning sirens around campus and text-messaging alerts.
Clem said before the university could be considered StormReady, the National Weather Service had to visit the university, randomly picking locations across campus to see if the equipment was in working order and the staff knew how to respond if an emergency did come across the radio, Clem said.
The work university officials and students did together was the main reason this designation was given to the institution, Emergency Programs Manager Jill Harris said.
“We’re excited about this designation,” she said. “It highlights the planning we had previously had in place before the tornado hit last year, but it also highlights some additional things we’ve done since then. Once again, through collaboration with campus administration and our city and county partners, we were able to achieve this honor.”
The university will have to periodically test its equipment and conduct training to ensure it maintains its StormReady designation, Clem said. Every year the campus needs to hold three weather-related safety talks on campus and be visited by a National Weather Service official. Every two years, the institution must also train spotters and dispatchers, and have an emergency manager visit the National Weather Service office.