Sunday’s tornado watch alerted Hampshire County to rain and high winds, but how would you know if conditions were more dangerous?
When weather turns severe, Hampshire County has 2 – and in some areas, 3 – ways of sounding the alarm.
The 2 countywide systems involve phones.
First, the county’s office of homeland security and emergency management has a mass notification system that between 5,000 and 6,000 people have signed up for. It can go to any phone, landline or cell.
Anyone can sign up for county notifications by clicking the link on Homeland Security and Emergency Management’s website, hsem.hampshirewv.com
“If it would elevate to a warning, an alert can be sent in seconds,” said the agency’s director, Brian “Tad” Malcolm.
Second is a system that alerts every cell phone in a given area.
“The National Weather Service will throw out an alert which works on the cell towers,” Malcolm explained. “It will hit every cell phone in the range of that tower.”
The system is called wireless emergency alerts, authorized by Congress in 2006 and ordered by President Obama in 2008.
A tone will ring on your phone and a text message will appear. The system will be used for more than weather emergencies and also includes amber alerts for child disappearances.
Finally, in the Romney and Springfield areas, the fire siren will sound continuously for 5 minutes to signal a tornado warning.
Sunday’s tornado watch meant that conditions were ripe for severe weather. A tornado warning means a funnel cloud has been sighted, either by a person or on radar.
“We do not activate it for watches or for severe thunderstorm warnings,” Malcolm said of the county’s phone notification system. “We’re afraid people would get tired of it and not respond.”
Malcolm noted that Hampshire is 1 of only 2 counties in the Eastern Panhandle that is certified storm-ready.
The certification means dispatchers here have been trained and schools are participants in readiness exercises and notification systems.