WINSTON COUNTY - Weather sirens are an important way to receive weather warnings, but for residents not in the sirens’ range, it is urgent they have a rapid means of receiving weather alerts.
As Severe Weather Preparedness Week quickly approaches Feb. 21-23, residents are now being urged to sign up for weather alerts through a company whose contract was renewed for another year by the Winston County Commission at a recent meeting.
Residents across Winston County are being encouraged to sign up their phone numbers or contact information such as e-mail address in order to receive severe weather alerts and other weather-related updates, which will be provided by Rapid Cast.
The commission at their regular meeting Monday, Jan. 13, first voted to rescind an earlier motion to enter a contract with RAVE Communication for the same service, with Commissioner David Cummings making the motion, seconded by Commissioner Bobby Everett.
The commission then voted unanimously to approve a new contract with Rapid Cast, with Cummings making the motion, seconded by Everett.
The county had been under contract with Rapid Cast under a three-year agreement that was funded by a state grant, according to Commission Chairman Roger Hayes. However, the three year agreement had expired, and grant funding for the contract was no longer available, Hayes added.
The new contract with Rapid Cast was negotiated for approximately $4,000 for a one-year contract, compared to the other option of using RAVE Communication, which would have cost the county $5,000, including a one-time $1,000 administrative fee, Hayes explained.
“We were having a lot of storms,” Hayes said. “We felt like it was a must...It’s a protector. It saves people’s lives and gives them a chance at an early warning.
“It’s kind of like a reverse 9-1-1 because it’s going to give you an idea of when it’s coming. It’s really been good about that. People like it,” Hayes continued.
However, Winston County was later getting on board with offering this alert or warning service than other counties, Hayes explained.
“It’s a matter of economics. You have to work it into your budget,” said Hayes.
Since the state grant is no longer available, the county will be paying for the emergency alert service from their budget, he noted.
“We just didn’t have the money to do that. We had a grant, and the grant played out,” Hayes noted.
Winston County Emergency Management Director Jimmy Madison stressed the urgency and value of residents keeping their contact information for emergency situations current.
“Anytime we have an incident, whether it’s a man-made disaster or a natural disaster, it (Rapid Cast) gives us an opportunity to do a mass notification across the county, to advise citizens of impending severe weather or if we have a hazardous material incident where they need to evacuate,” Madison pointed out.
“It puts people on alert,” added Hayes.
When residents are notified and are more alert in weather situations, they are more likely to heed warnings and take proper precautionary measures, Hayes added.
Everett noted that residents seemed to be more prepared during a recent incident of severe weather in the county.
“One of the main things that helps all of us is for the citizens of Winston County looking at the TV and the pre-warnings of the storms that are coming,” Everett stated.
“It seems like everybody is heeding that since we’ve been hit over the last 10 to 15 years. And it’s getting into that season,” added Everett about the upcoming spring, which is Alabama’s most likely time to experience tornadic weather.
Cummings agreed. “The residents stayed informed,” he said. “When there was bad weather, everything went great. There wasn’t much traffic out on the road. That was a good thing.
“Fortunately, we didn’t have a lot of damage. We had some trees down, scattered throughout my district,” Cummings added.
“It shows people are taking this serious, and they should. There were three killed in Pickens County,” said Hayes, referring to a recent severe weather event in the state where a tornado claimed three lives, as well as caused considerable property damage.
“This helps our citizens be aware,” Hayes continued. “I never did like the sirens. I didn’t have a problem (with) them being around the schools and hospital...If you are hard of hearing like me, you couldn’t hear them anyway.
“I know people felt like they were feeling safer, but if you can’t hear them, you don’t know what’s coming anyway,” Hayes continued.
Residents are now being urged to get a weather radio.
What we did on this contract, (the weather alert) goes to their personal cell phones,” he added.
Residents who have not signed up for alerts on their cell phones or go to the EMA’s website at www.winstonalema.org, where they will find a tab marked Alerts they can click on in order to register for Rapid Cast, Madison noted.
Residents can register cell phones and/or land line phones to receive emergency notifications through the Rapid Cast system, added Madison.
If older residents are not able to get online to register, they can contact the EMA, and Madison can enter their emergency contact information.
“They not only need to depend on this type of service, but if they have smart phones, they need to get at least two or three apps on their phone that will give them an alert,” Madison pointed out.
“Be sure to watch all the TV channels carrying severe weather. Have multiple ways of getting alerts,” he said.
“This is a system we have had running for the past three years,” Madison noted. “We just renewed the contract for another year.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.