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Is Atmore tornado safe?

By By Lori Dann
Advance Managing Editor
Alabama is one of the deadliest places in the nation to live during tornado season.
According to recent national weather statistics, the state ranks fourth in the number of tornado deaths from 1950 to 1999.
However, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, 56 percent of the people living in tornado-prone areas such as Alabama have taken no prevention measures against tornadoes.
In Atmore, the reason is simple. We have been extremely fortunate not to experience a major tornado. In fact, almost all of the tornados which have been spotted in Alabama were north of Escambia County.
But is that just luck?
Bill Smith, director of the Escambia County Emergency Management Agency, doesn't think so.
The danger in that, Smith said, is that the public tends to get lackadaisical when they hear of a warning.
In fact, radio and television are the area's only warning devices. The City of Atmore does not have the benefit of an elaborate early-warning system to alert residents in the event of an emergency.
The city does have an old Civil Defense siren at the fire department which was recently tested, but Mayor Rodney Owens said the volume is too low and that the siren would probably just confuse city residents.
Owens said the city, to his knowledge, has never had a plan dedicated to tornado preparedness. There is, however, an emergency management plan which addresses the city's hierarchy in times of disaster.
Smith said a siren probably would not make much of a difference.
Last week's deadly tornadoes in Fort Worth, Texas, have raised awareness of the dangers of severe weather. Tornado season began May 1, and hurricane season is right on its heels.
FEMA is encouraging residents in tornado-prone states to take preventative measures instead of waiting for disaster to strike. It is recommending that homeowners consider the following:
n Building a tornado-safe room that can withstand extreme winds and flying objects and keep people safe during extreme tornadoes;
n Ensuring that homes meet building code requirements for high-wind areas;
n Installing anchoring devices such as clips and straps to secure doors and roofs;
n Properly bracing the end wall of gabled roofs to reduce lift;
n Reinforcing garage doors.
FEMA is also encouraging communities in these states to join Project Impact, which has as its goal to develop disaster-resistance communities. FEMA officials believe that for every dollar spent in prevention, two will be saved in repairs.
Area communities which have joined this effort include Escambia County, Fla., Baldwin County, Mobile County and Bayou Le Batre.
But the most important factor in preventing natural disasters from turning into family tragedies, Smith said, is to be informed.
Smith stressed the need that every family develop a disaster plan in the event of a tornado or a hurricane. It is important to go through that plan on a regular basis, perhaps once a month.
Complete tornado safety information is available at Smith's office at the Escambia County Courthouse in Brewton and at the local American Red Cross office.