The Henderson Office of Emergency Management, working with the National Weather Service, is ready to release a new emergency preparedness program that will be made available to all 3,000-plus counties in the country.
The goal is for the program to be introduced nationwide in early 2024, pending approval from the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., said Kenny Garrett, the Henderson OEM director.
The program is called Weather Ready Community, and it will replace the Weather-Ready Nation program of which StormReady County is a piece, Garrett said.
Henderson has achieved the designation of a StormReady county, Garrett said.
The new program came about, Garrett said, after the deadly tornadoes that ravaged western Kentucky on Dec. 10, 202. He started to receive calls from business owners who were concerned about protecting their employees and didn’t want their buildings to get demolished like Mayfield Consumer Products, the candle factory that was flattened.
A couple months later, the deputy director for Henderson OEM, Tim Troutman, spoke with a connection of his in the Washington, D.C., office of the National Weather Service, according to Garrett. They spoke about the need to update the Weather-Ready Nation program and what that may look like—and who would create it, Garrett said.
That’s when Troutman volunteered the Henderson OEM to write the new program, according to Garrett.
The Weather Ready Community program is an initiative in which a community, with a great deal of work from emergency managers, assesses its buildings in terms of emergency preparedness.
Assessments occur locally when Garrett, Troutman and Henderson OEM Director’s Assistant Jill Ward complete an analysis of a facility. That walk-through analysis can take an hour, or for larger facilities, more than three hours, Garrett said, adding the main point of the assessment is for a facility’s employees “to figure out the best way to protect themselves.”
Once a facility is analyzed, OEM creates a report that details the building’s needs and makes other recommendations to keep its employees safe during an emergency.
The report also points out errors in methods that the organization may already have in place, such as an unsafe location to shelter during an emergency, Garrett said.
Garrett said after a recent report was returned to a local industry, the company built a new FEMA-certified, hurricane-rated shelter to protect its 100 employees during an emergency.
The report contains the headings: Sheltering Goals, All Hazards Safety and Preparation Recommendations, Warning Reception Sources and Location Recommendations and Safety Analysis Recommendations.
After reports are created, organizations housed in those buildings are designated as Weather Ready Ambassadors, Garrett said.
Another piece of the program involves the entire community. The NWS designates communities in three different levels—bronze, silver and gold—based on the percentage of its buildings that have been assessed by emergency managers.
A bronze level is awarded to a town or community if 25% of one category of buildings have completed a facility needs assessment.
If a town or county has an assessment rate of 25% of two to five categories, it is awarded the silver ranking, and if a town or county has a 25% assessment rate of more than five categories, then it is awarded the gold rating.
The categories of buildings, as designated by FEMA, are local government, non-governmental organizations, day care facilities, schools, government buildings, non-profits, general public (residences), faith-based organizations (churches) and health care organizations (hospitals and clinics), Garrett said.
He said the more organizations that are certified as Weather Ready Ambassadors, the more the entire community is ready for emergency events.
Emergencies looked at in the assessments are more than weather-related, also including active shooter and workplace violence, Garrett said. “All hazards.”
Garrett said that Henderson County has some 2,000-3,000 organizational facilities that can be analyzed. So far, Henderson OEM has assessed about two-dozen, Garrett said.
He said the program will allow homeowners to complete an online self-assessment to receive a Weather Ready Ambassador designation.
Garrett said the initial plan for the Weather Ready Community program was drawn up on a napkin.