Prepping for severe weather has become standard amongst service providers
Delta Digital News Service
June 6, 2023
By Avery Jones | Editor
JONESBORO, Ark. – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service, predict near-normal hurricane activity in the Atlantic this year. The hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30.
During hurricanes in the Atlantic, tornadoes are often spun into neighboring states. Earlier this year, two tornadoes, both EF3s, hit the Little Rock area and later the city of Wynne on March 31, causing extensive damage.
Although there wasn’t much severe damage from the storms in northeast Arkansas region, the area received plenty of weather alerts. However, a late season outbreak of tornadoes on December 10, 2021 caused extensive damage to the city of Monette. Along with the previous year’s EF3 tornado on March 28, 2020 which caused extensive damage to the city of Jonesboro and which hit the Mall at Turtle Creek in Jonesboro, severe weather preparation is more pertinent than ever.
There are multiple ways to prepare for severe weather, and finding the proper shelter as well as insurance in case of damage to personal property are among the most important.
Craighead County Judge, Marvin Day, stated that when the county is under a severe weather warning, especially for tornadoes, they activate the Emergency Operations Center. During severe weather, the Center monitors weather conditions so they’ll be able to alert the officials or departments that need to take action.
For example, they make sure that the road department is prepared so that they can clear roadways of debris and fallen trees if needed. They also keep the general public informed of weather conditions and significant damage.
As of yet, there is no official public storm shelter for the Craighead County area. However, there are public shelters in adjacent areas, such as Monette, and there are also various school districts that are often open for shelter.
In addition, the county has plans to build a new storm shelter soon. It will be adjacent to the courthouse and will be able to hold several hundred people.
Another significant aspect of severe storm preparation is insurance. Depending on the individual policy, insurance could possibly help a person to get back on their feet if their personal property is damaged by a severe storm.
According to local insurance agent Randy Smith, insurance rates and claims generally increase after a natural disaster. However, factors of rates and claims vary significantly across agencies and policies, and one important factor is based on losses and how much the company has to pay out.
Additionally, severe storms can cause claims to still come in even years after the fact. For instance, Smith’s office is still seeing claims from a hailstorm on April 15, 2022. This is usually due to the recent high winds which can blow off roof shingles, and when roofers repair the damage, they may find additional hail damage that hadn’t been seen before.
In order to prepare for a severe weather event, Smith said to “Make sure that your company but even more so that your agent that you have, that they are preparing you to make sure that you at least have the opportunity to have the coverages that you are going to need when this event occurs.”
He explained that his office uses “the doctor’s approach.” They begin by asking a series of questions, the customer explains their situation, and the agent gives their professional opinion about what they believe the customer needs.
The price is never discussed because that’s not the agent’s concern; their concern is what the customer needs for their particular situation. It’s entirely up to the customer whether or not the price is worth what the agent offers them.
According to Smith, most customers are only concerned with getting the best product for the least money, but it’s also important for the person to consider what kind of situation they’ll be in with whatever they bought if they suffer a disaster. The agent’s intention should be to educate the customer about that situation and prepare them.
After a disaster, the customer can go through the claims process. If a house is uninhabitable due to severe weather, and if it’s offered in the policy, the person can be given some money to live in a hotel or apartment: this is called additional living expenses. Also, if a car is damaged and the person has rental car coverage, they can get a rental car for the amount that the specific policy offers.
In his office, Smith says that customers can call the agent to have them involved in the process by filing the claim for the customer and then the agent can continue to check up on the customer after the fact. However, the office doesn’t have the authority to make determinations on claims or pay out money. That happens from the company; the agent acts as a liaison between the company and the customer.
However, insurance isn’t the only way to recover after a disaster. There are many charity and nonprofit organizations that offer relief to victims of severe weather in the Northeast Arkansas area.
According to chief executive director Christie Jordan, the Food Bank of Northeast Arkansas makes sure that affected families have food after disasters. They reach out to the community to supply water and snacks to victims and volunteers helping clean up. During the recovery period, they provide families that are rebuilding their lives with food.
Their response changes based on what the community in question needs. They often work through their network of partner agencies and local churches to distribute food. They currently have a distribution center set up in Wynne to receive and donate food to victims of the recent tornado. They work with city officials to ensure that resources get to the right places.
The Food Bank of NEA works closely with other Feeding America food banks in Arkansas and other states and are part of a disaster preparation cohort to work together and plan in advance. They make sure that supplies are already staged in various locations so they can respond quickly as they did in Wynne.
Another organization that helps after disasters in the general area is the Arkansas Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief. They’re based in Little Rock, but they have units situated all over the state, including several in the Northeast Arkansas area.
According to Randy Garrett, the director of disaster relief, their main job is to supply resources to the public after a disaster. Primarily, they do feeding as well as chainsaw work and flood recovery. They also have incident command to provide leadership and guidance after a disaster.
The organization is part of the North American Mission Board Send Relief. They can reach out to other organizations across the state or in other states for help if needed. There are several thousand of these organizations. The Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief has traveled to help other states as well, such as during Hurricane Sandy.
They also have chaplains, and they provide the training for the chaplains themselves. The chaplains talk to the public during a crisis to listen to the survivors and help them work through it.
They have a new program called the Box Ministry. They help victims sort through the wreckage of their home after a disaster to find keepsakes and other important belongings. They bring boxes to contain the findings. While they’re helping, they spread the message of Christ.
Sometimes this process can take several days. They help to put the box in a safe place until the victims can start to rebuild their lives.
Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief usually comes in right after the first responders. They stay in that community for as long as it takes to get people taken care of. Currently, they’re still sending teams into Central Arkansas and Wynne to help after the tornadoes.
Each worker has to get trained. Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief hosts training events across the state. They also provide all the necessary personal protective equipment. They currently have over 2,500 volunteers. They also work alongside other churches in the local area of the disaster that want to help.
“There’s other avenues to help people in times of crisis, but I think the main thing is faith is very important. I’ve seen it move mountains,” Garrett said. “People of Arkansas are very resilient. You think…how will they ever recover? And you go back maybe six months later and you see the rebuild process…they really bounced back and they’ve got their lives back. It’s just a tribute to the guys and ladies of Arkansas…when something happens, we’re down, but we’re not out.”
The Salvation Army in Jonesboro is another organization that offers disaster relief. They serve eight surrounding counties with a staff of three, and usually about fifty to sixty volunteers during the holiday season and fifteen to twenty-five the rest of the year.
Captain Charles Smith and his wife Captain Teri Smith are the commanding officers. According to Charles Smith, his team goes on on-site as soon as a natural disaster happens. They offer food to both victims and first-responders. Their Disaster Mobile Canteens also provide things like water and coffee.
They also offer emotional and spiritual care. They go out and talk to people to encourage them and listen to them.
After the initial hit, they help do long-term recovery work. For instance, the divisional disaster director Laurie Fried and her team based in Oklahoma City have been traveling several times a year to visit those affected by the tornadoes in the Trumann area a couple of years ago.
“What they offer is solutions to help people get back on their feet,” Smith said. “Whether it’s through monetary donations or gift cards or other ways to help meet their needs. We work alongside…other agencies…to help get people back on their feet and get them established again, getting them into homes, getting them relief, whether it’s through food, financial assistance with rent or utilities, things of that nature.”
The agencies that Salvation Army works alongside include Samaritan’s Purse, Red Cross, and the Baptist Foundation.
Although natural disasters are undoubtedly devastating, there are many organizations willing to help those affected and also ways to help oneself be prepared before a storm.
Emergency services provide NEA with much needed care as Hurricane season arrives. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council