Emergency Center operations go at fast pace

Saturday, May 4, 2002

David Hitt and Charlie Griffith can't sleep through storms anymore.

At the earliest signs of severe weather, they immediately run to a basement and listen intently to weather reports. They keep their eyes on a radar screen, anticipating where storms will go and mentally prepare for the worst.

But it's not because of fear.

It's because of their jobs.

The duo operates the Cape Girardeau County Emergency Operations Center, a small office hunkered in the basement of the county's administrative building. The EOC serves as the communications base and go-between for weather spotters, the National Weather Service, and local and state law enforcement agencies as well as various fire departments.

With the numerous tornado and hail-producing storms that assaulted Southeast Missouri in the last two weeks, Griffith, Hitt and 911 mapping coordinator Mike Niemeier have been busy.

Hitt is the county's emergency management coordinator, the man who would organize communications for various local and state departments in an emergency. The EOC has a generator-driven communications van and, should disaster strike, it would serve as a mobile dispatch office. In the early morning hours last Sunday, Bollinger County found the van helpful when a tornado killed one and destroyed several homes near Marble Hill.

Griffith is Hitt's assistant, but also assists Niemeier with 911 mapping. All three man the phones and radios when storms, tornadoes and hail break loose.

The small office has all sorts of gadgets, including a satellite phone, numerous land-line phones, television monitors, two-way radios and, of course, a coffee maker.

Perhaps Hitt's most vital responsibility is to immediately notify the National Weather Service when a tornado is spotted.

Once Hitt is notified of a tornado by a weather spotter, he contacts the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., through a direct emergency line. Hitt doesn't even have to dial. He just picks up the phone, tells where he is from and gives the information.

The National Weather Service then issues a warning.

During the worst storms, the men have trouble keeping up, they said. A multitude of information is simultaneously being given and requested. While they're receiving a report from a weather spotter, another phone might ring, all while constant chatter is coming through the radios.

"We've got, at times, all the phones going," Griffith said. "You can't do everything at once. You've just got to go with the priority at that time."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: