By William Moore
TUPELO – No emergency plan is perfect, but the city of Tupelo was ready when the tornado hit last April.
“In my opinion, we were as prepared as we could be,” said Thomas Walker, Tupelo’s fire chief and emergency management coordinator. “A natural disaster throws so many different things at you, you can’t train for everything.”
Weather forecasts had warned for days the weather could turn nasty that Monday, so Tupelo officials decided to stage a drill and roll out the city’s Emergency Action Plan that morning.
City employees started doing their assigned tasks to get ready. Public Works made sure tractors, chain saws and generators were all fueled and ready. Firefighters checked to make sure the trucks were fully stocked with supplies. Someone went around to make sure the public storm shelters were unlocked.
“Since we had already gone over the plan and assigned people to specific areas,” said Walker, “when the tornado did hit, everyone know what they were supposed to do and where.”
First responders immediately took up the task of searching the devastated areas for victims. Within eight hours, police and firemen had physically entered every house. Amazingly, everyone was accounted for and no one died.
“I don’t think you could have scripted it any better,” said Walker.
The tornado did reveal some inadequacies. The fire department did not have enough chain saws. They now have three assigned to each engine as well as thermal cameras to help in search and rescue.
The Public Works department had trouble documenting clean-up work so the city could be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The department now uses daily work sheets that contain all the information and details needed by FEMA.