It's not often that disasters like the Huckabay fires from years ago or tornados like the ones in Granbury happen, but if and when they do, Erath County is ready, according to Local Emergency Planning Committee chairman John Wooley.
"Our LEPC comes together once a month to discuss day-to-day issues as well as going over options for major events," Wooley said. "This way we can be fully prepared to meet our first priority which is protecting the health and safety of all Erath County residents. Our main focuses are weather, fire, flood and criminal."
Wooley said the team, which consists of leaders from Stephenville and Dublin, as well as representatives from CareFlight, Texas Health Resources, Tarleton State University and the county, can be activated for anything from a level 4 concern (the minimum) to a level 1 threat (which includes major fire events and massive storms).
While they meet once a month, these same people are the ones who, when activated by the system, will head to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to provide backup for first responders at the scene of an event.
"We don't run the event, we just provide support for those first responders on scene," Wooley said. "It's a common misconception that the emergency management team is the one in charge in a major event, but that's not the case. We are here to provide those on scene with everything they need to bring the event under control."
He said the team comes together in the EOC and stays on top of the latest information on the situation (like the path of a major storm or where a shooter is located in a building) and helps supply those on scene with the resources they need.
"What we try to provide through the LEPC is a multi-agency response team with open communication between everyone on scene with no politics involved," Wooley said. "We do our best to maintain a general awareness on all major issues facing the area and what's going on. That way we can assess the needs and better serve the people of the county."
An example of day-to-day operations aided by the monthly meetings is communication between first responders and Tarleton.
"We have to know where construction is and what roads Tarleton has shut down," he said. "That way when Stephenville EMS or the fire departments are trying to get somewhere on campus they aren't having to stop and turn around and lose precious seconds in an emergency."
Another example of a more pressing issue is a major storm event like a tornado, Wooley said. If a storm is moving into the county that could pose a safety threat, the team would come together at the Erath County Jail, where the EOC is located, and monitor its progress using satellite imaging, weather radar and reports from those in the field.
"From the EOC we can stay in communication with officers, firefighters and paramedics in the field as well as officials from the area and the state," Wooley said. "This way we can determine where the most potential for a threat is and get those residents informed. We can also call in help if our first responders become overwhelmed."
A major component in the effort is the county's Code Red System.
"We have this wonderful tool that gives us the ability to keep residents informed and safe through seven methods of communication," said Kent Howell, a first responder. "What we need, however, is residents to register for the service."
Code Red is a rural notification system that sends out messages to residents signed up with the program via landline, cell phone call, text message, email, Facebook notification, Twitter message or other electronic means.
"These messages will go out to our rural residents during situations when timing is critical," Wooley said. "Unless these people are glued to their radios or some other form of news media, they usually don't know if there is a fire evacuation or a tornado warning. This program helps us get those kinds of messages out."
To register for Code Red, visit the county's website and click on the link that says Code Red. Signing up takes less than 10 minutes.