City, FEMA plan drills

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Al Key/DRC file photo
A wall cloud with several possible funnels moved through Denton just south of the future Linda McNatt Animal Care Center on U.S. Highway 77 on April 3. Severe thunderstorms are predicted this weekend, with conditions perhaps favorable for the development of tornadoes, according to officials.
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Officials stress being prepared for severe weather

With one tornado scare already this year, the city of Denton is teaming up with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a national initiative to help residents, businesses and officials be better prepared for natural disasters.

As part of America’s PrepareAthon!, there will be tornado drills at Denton City Hall and FEMA Region 6 on Wednesday to help residents know what to do if there’s a major disaster.

“We’ve had a ready campaign that said know your risk, make a plan, build a kit and this day of action really says that once you’ve done that — if you don’t practice that — you’ll never know where the gaps are, and you may, when the time comes, not really know what your plan is,” said Tony Robinson, FEMA Region 6 administrator.

It’s important for residents to know how to handle disasters because neighbors often are the first responders, said Denton Mayor Mark Burroughs.

“In a disaster, you might look to city officials, but what happens first?” he said. “It’s the people right there, who can protect what’s left, who can help their neighbors ... and there’s a lot of things that have to happen on a household-to-household basis that the cities can’t really help with.”

The drills can’t come too soon for the Denton area. Waves of severe storms swept through Denton County on April 3, bringing reports, but no apparent touchdowns, of funnel clouds and baseball-size hail in some areas. More severe thunderstorms are expected to move through North Texas again this weekend, mostly late tonight and early Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

For residents who didn’t participate in the ready campaign, Robinson suggested using the latest call to action to make a plan and build a kit with items such as nonperishable food, a radio, flashlights and a sleeping bag. Then he urged families, offices and organizations to practice emergency drills.

At the city level, emergency management needs to be prepared and know the right response, he said.

“Unless you’ve gone through some drills, it’s almost impossible to know how it’s going to function in your setting — who do you call? Who is there at the department?” Burroughs said. “The whos and whats and hows have to be answered immediately, and someone has to have that information to be able to coordinate it quickly. It’s not easy unless you’re prepared and devote some resources beforehand.”

Officials also urge Denton residents to sign up for the Code Red system, which calls users who sign up for the service and provides severe weather alerts and other emergency information.

“More than anything else, it’s to get individuals feeling empowered that they can have information and there’s a way for them to participate and it keeps them aware and makes them think about it,” Burroughs said. “And if you’re thinking about it, you will be better prepared.”

The National Weather Service is predicting a 50 percent chance of severe thunderstorms in Denton County tonight and a 30 percent chance on Sunday morning before 1 p.m. Some areas of North Texas may also face conditions that could allow development of tornadoes, officials said.

“This weekend we’ll have a threat throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas of potential severe weather [today] and Sunday, and we’ll keep an eye on that,” Robinson said. “There’s activities all throughout that region that city, state and local governments need to be concerned about — how to protect their population.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.

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