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Pending Franklin chaos just a drill

March 20, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On Wednesday morning, emergency management officials, hospitals, schools, nursing homes and other institutions in Franklin County will begin receiving severe weather alerts from the National Weather Service.

"We will be informed there is a severe storm moving in from the Ohio Valley," said Lynn Lerew, the director of Human Resources for the Chambersburg Area School District. Fortunately, the alerts are part of Weather Emergency Preparedness Week in Pennsylvania and any actual severe weather in the area that day will be coincidental.

Franklin County Emergency Management Coordinator Dennis Monn said there will be exercises in the western counties on Tuesday, here in Southcentral Pennsylvania on Wednesday and in the eastern counties on Thursday. People with access to radios that pick up National Weather Service radio stations will hear the alerts, but Monn said they will be clearly labeled as part of the exercises.

Friday the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will conduct a statewide test of the Emergency Alert System, which used to be known as the Emergency Broadcast System, according to Monn.

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The exercise, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will give local officials a chance to fine-tune their emergency management plans, according to Monn. "In the past, we've left it up to the facility to do what they want to do, so they can fit it into their schedules," he said.

At some of the elementary schools in the district, that could include mock drills conducted between 9 and 10 a.m., Lerew said. Students could be moved to the part of the building providing the greatest level of protection. He said school officials involved in the drills have been instructed "to make very, very sure that everyone is aware it is a mock drill."

At the larger schools Lerew said officials will take part in "what if?" exercises, basically examining what steps would be taken in the event of high winds, tornadoes, flash flooding, or other weather-related emergencies.

"This is a good wake-up call for us to be prepared for what we need to do," Lerew said.

Responding to the weather alerts, Gregg Cerrone, a county telecommunicator, will be drafting scenarios to fit the situation, Monn said. That could include reports of power lines down in Mont Alto, flash flooding in St. Thomas or a building collapse in Chambersburg.

The table exercises will determine the appropriate response in any situation that crops up, Monn said.

No one knows when disasters will strike, and for Franklin County "last year was a nice quiet year," according to Monn. It was not among the 15 counties hit by three major floods in 1999 and Pennsylvania has not had a confirmed tornado since June 1998, according to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

That contrasts with 1996 when there were five presidentially declared weather disasters in the state, including five major floods and recording breaking snowfall that impacted all 67 counties, according to state Emergency Management Director David Smith.

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