Lamar County is no stranger to the havoc Mother Nature can wreak on a city. Even with the most advanced technology, there’s no denying she can change her mind in an instant, and there is certainly no stopping her.
However, when it comes to monitoring the weather and getting the most up-to-date information possible, Lamar County residents can rest assured they are in good hands.
Lamar County is home to one of the largest Emergency Operation Centers (EOC) in northeast Texas, and it is housed at the Paris Police Department.
“When we have a large scale emergency or disaster, the ability to make sense out of chaos and provide a competent and efficient response can mean the difference between life and death,” said Paris Chief of Police Bob Hundley. “There is no fly by the seat of your pants approach to disasters. This EOC and its capabilities allow our first responders and other disaster response entities the best place to work from and enhance that response.”
Paris’ EOC is used anytime severe weather threatens Lamar County and is also used in the event of a major emergency or disaster. It also doubles as a training/meeting room for area first responders explained Assistant Chief of Police Randy Tuttle.
“An Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is a central command and control facility responsible for carrying out the principles of emergency preparedness and emergency management, or disaster management functions at a strategic level during an emergency, and ensuring the continuity of operation of a company, political subdivision or other organization,” explained Tuttle.
Tuttle, along with Chief Hundley and several other officials from various agencies, is the first to respond to the EOC when severe weather is in the forecast.
“We monitor the weather depending on the National Weather Service forecast. Once storms begin to form, usually to our west or southwest, we increase our readiness level and begin calling in other personnel to staff the EOC,” said Tuttle.
In fact, the National Weather Service has designated Paris as a “Weather-Ready” city with a total of 55 spotter locations throughout the county. Hundley explained that many of those locations are covered by volunteer fire departments and manning all those locations wouldn’t be possible without their help.
“Our primary area of responsibility is the City of Paris; however, we are also available to Lamar County and other cities as well. We are in constant contact with the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate information and warning.”
And while those who respond to the EOC to warn residents of severe weather threats aren’t “meteorologists,” all have had training through the National Weather Service Skywarn classes and combined have decades of experience.
Not only is the team experienced in monitoring the skies, but they have experienced firsthand just how ruthless mother nature can be.
“I was born in Oklahoma, and with my father working in the newspaper business as a printer, we moved back and forth from Oklahoma and Texas while growing up,” said Hundley. “Those moves seemed to place us in tornado alley a lot, and I have been in several tornados.”
Hundley said he has experienced the devastation up close and personal after surviving a tornado in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, as a young boy.
“The back of our house was demolished. My mother has just removed my sister and me from the room before the tornado hit, and I have seen and experienced that devastation up close and personal. After getting into law enforcement, when a problem occurred, you had the ability to take care of it. Help someone, protect someone, or putting someone in jail. When severe weather is a threat, you are completely powerless to stop it. The only protection you can provide is to make sure people know what’s coming and know what to do to survive it.”
The EOC provides those resources to the emergency response team to warn Lamar County residents of what’s coming.
“We have various weather radars located in the EOC to help us track the storms as they approach and go through the county,” explained Tuttle. “We are also in direct contact with the National Weather Service and are constantly getting the latest information on what the storms are doing as they move in our direction.”
Another vital asset to the team is a HAM radio operator who provides the EOC with redundant communications abilities.
“The HAM radio is significant to our success,” said Hundley. “Our HAM operator has direct contact with the HAM operator in the National Weather Service office in Ft. Worth where our forecast and warning originate. The HAM’s also have a spotter network throughout the region, which is another source of information for us as we monitor approaching storms.”
The HAM’s can also communicate when no one else can, added Tuttle. “We are fortunate to have them in our EOC.”
Since forming the EOC, the room hasn’t been used to its fullest capabilities, and Tuttle hopes they never get to experience it at full capacity.
“We did use it for the ice storm that hit in 2013 but, still, it wasn’t used to its fullest capacity,” said Tuttle. “If we ever have to use it to that extent, we would certainly have a major emergency or disaster to deal with.”
With such an exceptional team watching over Lamar County, getting the information they collect to the public is another crucial part of their job.
“Our local electronic media does a great job of getting the information out. We try to post timely updates on the police department’s Facebook page, that is the quickest real-time communication we have with our citizens,” said Hundley.
The City of Paris also utilizes Code Red, which is a mass notification system that warns citizens who have opted in to that program.
“We also have through Suddenlink Communications a television override system that allows us to interrupt broadcasting to warn of severe weather or other emergencies. Our local radio stations also broadcast weather information,” said Tuttle.
Paris also has eight outdoor warning sirens that are located throughout the city, which can be activated from the EOC to warn those outdoors of an approaching tornado.
So, as tornado season approaches, know that while Paris’ EOC team can’t stop a tornado, they can get you the most up-to-date accurate information with your safety at the top of their minds.
When it comes to the weather, Lamar County, know you’re in good hands.
If you haven’t signed up for Code Red, go to www.paristexas.gov/alertcenter