Tornado hits township, emergency crews prepared

As the sky darkened and the wind picked up, a funnel cloud touched down, taking out trees, power lines and even a home with two inside. For the township of Williamstown, Oct. 18, 2007, is a day that is still on resident’s minds.

Only lasting moments the tornado moved homes off their foundations, ripped rooms from houses and sent tree limbs into the streets. Many residents were forced to leave their homes because of the damage. The area was in such disarray, the next day there was a curfew and only residents could enter. Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth said the day of the tornado there were officers in the township, as well as the county’s Emergency Management Program.

The Ingham County Sheriff, through its Office of Emergency Services, provides a comprehensive Emergency Response Plan in weather emergencies like the tornado. In the event of an emergency all governmental municipalities within Ingham County fall under the guidance of the Ingham County Emergency Operations Plan, directed by the sheriff, with the exception of the city of Lansing, which maintains its own Emergency Operations Plan.

The Office of Emergency Services plans are to provide residents in emergency situations with an efficient and comprehensive response, which is designed to save lives, prevent property damage and protect environmental resources. They prepare plans for population protection, evacuation, sheltering and emergency services. They also coordinate disaster response and recovery programs.

There are local, state and federal resources that provide direct or indirect assistance in the phases of emergency management (mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery), training and recovery said Sgt. Mike Perez, the Emergency Management Program Manager. Some of these resources include health departments, school districts, the Michigan Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Ingham County Emergency Operations Center coordinates these resources in the event of an emergency. In 2007 the operations center was partially or fully activated three or four times due to severe weather, which is more than usual according to Perez. The Oct. 18 tornado was one of three or four times in 2007 that severe weather caused the Operations Center to be fully or partially activated, which is more than usual, according to Perez.

The Emergency Management Program for the township is a federal program that is managed by the state. Each county is required to have an Emergency Management Program, which is funded by a Department of Homeland Security grant and the county’s general fund budget. All resources, including equipment and training, are eligible for reimbursement under the Homeland Security Grant program, explained Perez.

The day of the tornado, the Emergency Operations Center was set up as soon as bad weather was detected, to take precautions. They communicated through radio and computers to evaluate what to do once the weather worsened. That day after the tornado the dive team searched for a couple whose home was lifted and thrown into the pond behind their home, the K9 unit helped to find anyone left in their homes and victim services helped individuals with coping.

According to Perez, as soon as the cloud touched down the people who serve as the emergency staff were called to support and service others responding to the community.

 

“We brought in people to help; we had shelters, porta-potties, dump trucks, water and food for the people operating and the township,” said Perez. Some services were provided through the program, while others were donated or provided by volunteers.

Wrigglesworth said the focus of the emergency workers during the says after the tornado was getting the area up and running again and protect abandoned houses if looting were to occur. Within days the power was back on and most of the debris was cleaned up.

In the weeks following, the Emergency Operations Center continued to communicate with the public, assess damages and help in recovery from the tornado. They also called a meeting after the tornado to review what happened, what went well and what the township could improve on in the future if an emergency, such as the tornado, occurs again, according to Williamstown Township Supervisor Mickey Martin’s webpage.

“I am very proud to be a part of this community and to know we all work together in times of need,” said Martin.

After the initial reaction and response to the tornado, the sheriff’s office did what they could to get state resources to help clean up. Perez said that the county declared a local state of emergency that day for the township and the city of Williamston. The local declaration was sent days later to the governor, with a request that the state declare a Governor’s State of Emergency, but the request was not approved. Without the Governor’s State of Emergency, the sheriff’s office was not allowed to further the declaration to the federal government for reimbursement.

Four months later the township is back to normal, according to Wriggelsworth. Homes are under construction or completely repaired and tree limbs do not clutter the streets. Residents are living their lives, but will not forget the tornado that killed two and left some of them homeless.

 

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