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2012-06-07

Commissioners hear about new ways to get emergency info

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

Residents can sign up to receive alerts
Mark Lenz with the National Weather Service, Larry Thomas from the USGS, and Bandera County's Emergency Management Coordinator Carey Reed presented a program at a special meeting of the Bandera County Commissioners Court held Thursday evening, May 31.

The trio shared information about the latest developments in technology that can assist county residents remain safe during emergency situations such as severe weather and flooding.

Reed advised county commissioners and attendees how to sign up on-line for a variety of emergency notifications.

Residents may go to the Emergency Management department's page from the Bandera County website and sign up for the Alamo Regional Communications (ARC) Registry. Once signed up, the resident will receive public safety warnings, community alerts, area watches and restrictions, and emergency preparedness information.

Applicants may also sign up for notification of public service opportunities, such as volunteering and civic involvement, and notices of public meetings and announcements.

Residents can also go to the Bandera County Emergency Management's Facebook page for similar information, said Reed.

Lenz, a senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service, works out of the Austin-San Antonio office. The office covers 33 counties, including Bandera, going west to the Rio Grande, south to Dimmit County and east to Lavaca County.

By going to the website

www.weather.gov/austin

residents can find the latest weather forecasts, advisories, watches and warnings.

"People sometimes have a hard time remembering the difference," said Lenz. "It's kind of like a traffic light. An advisory is like the green light, things are OK right now, but could change. A watch is like the yellow light, meaning something is developing, so use caution and be alert. A weather warning is the red light. It means it's time to take safety measures."

Lenz advised that residents should go to the lowest floor of a building, preferably an interior room with no windows, in case of a tornado warning. Safe behavior during a severe thunderstorm with lightning would include going indoors and "staying indoors for at least 30 minutes after the last thunder is heard."

Lenz acknowledged that flash flooding is common in the Hill Country. A flash flood by definition is any flood that occurs within six hours of the rain event. "Usually, it is much quicker," advised Lenz.

USGS's Larry Thomas said the new USGS gauge at Patterson Road on the Medina River already proved its worth during light flooding that occurred in April. The gauge, installed by USGS, is financed by Bandera County, the Bandera County River Authority and Bandera Electric Cooperative. By observing the real-time data coming in from the gauge, scientists were able to determine that it took about 3 ½ to 4 hours for the flood stage to move from the low water crossing at Patterson Road to Bandera. That gave emergency personnel plenty of time to decide if and when to evacuate low-lying areas along the river.

Residents can go to

water.usgs.gov/wateralert/

to sign up for water alerts to be sent to them via email or text message. The Patterson Road station is #0817887350. The subscriber can specify the type of alerts, the schedule of the alerts and more.

Thomas said the gauge height, which measures the position of the water surface, will be at 7.1 feet when it starts to flow over the low water crossing at Patterson.

"This gauge is going to be very helpful in future flood events," said Thomas, "because it is located at the confluence of two water sheds."

County Judge Richard Evans expressed his gratitude to BEC and BCRAGD for working together with the county to install the gauge. "It's one of the best things that's happened in the county.... It will save lives and property."

Evans said the receipt of real-time data from the gauge made a difference in the county's emergency management office during the April flood event. "We really appreciated the rapid response. An hour can be a long time when you're in a room and waiting to decide if you need to evacuate people."

Evans also encouraged county residents to help collect data during emergencies. "Call the sheriff's office or the emergency management office with reports of flooding, heavy rains, hail or any emergency."