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How would we fare if November’s tornadoes hit here?

December 16, 2013 | By: Mark Ross

How would we fare if November’s tornadoes hit here?

A tornado outbreak like the one that struck the Midwest in November 2013 is not something you’d wish on anyone anywhere. Tragically eight people died. But that is much less than might have been expected given the hundreds of homes destroyed.

Excellent forecasting and communication are credited with keeping loss of life and injuries to a minimum.

What if the tornadoes had hit here?

In the Midwest, timely, accurate information flowed smoothly from the National Weather Service to emergency managers and ordinary people in communities at high risk for devastation. People were warned to protect themselves before the storms hit.

Fortunately, Greater Philadelphia has the tools and teamwork to accomplish what worked so well in the Midwest. Over the last decade, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Regional Task Force, government, and the hospital community have put in place a strong communication infrastructure. 

First responders—police, fire, and emergency managers—hospitals, and other health care providers can share information via the web-based Knowledge Center system. That way, the professionals who must manage and mitigate the effects of a disaster are all contributing to the development of a common situational awareness, or knowledge base, about the disaster, its impact, response efforts, and concerns and needs. 

With Knowledge Center, these professionals can communicate and coordinate efficiently, often without a single phone call.

By signing up for ReadyNotifyPA, the general public can receive, on their cell phones, emergency alerts from their local government. This gives first responders a direct line to the people in harm’s way. 

Emergency managers and others are also using social media to communicate life-saving informationand to monitor and respond to rumors, questions, and fears.

Together, these tools provide the framework to communicate quickly and accurately during a disaster. The region’s effective response to Hurricane Sandy last year is proof positive that they work.

As government budgets tighten even further and priorities shift, the region should take care to maintain and enhance the communication infrastructure and teamwork we have built. They weren’t easy to come by, and they would be invaluable should tornados touch down here.

Mark Ross
Written by Mark Ross

Mark Ross is regional manager, emergency preparedness, for the HAP/Pennsylvania Department of Health emergency preparedness partnership. A former health care system emergency preparedness security manager, Mark focuses on enhancing the preparedness of health care facilities in southeastern Pennsylvania and building relationships with regional partners.


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