Corbin H. Crable
[email protected]

Although southwest Johnson County was spared from any major damage in the wake of last

An aerial view of Reading, Kan., shows how a powerful tornado damaged approximately 80 percent of the buildings. Johnson County officials say locally, they are prepared should such a natural disaster occur locally. Photo courtesy of Gov. Sam Brownback’s office

weekend’s storms, county officials say plans are in place to combat such an event if it were to occur here.

Across the state line, in Joplin, Mo., the death toll from Saturday’s tornado – the most deadly on record since 1953 – climbed past 100 on Tuesday. Homes and buildings located along a six-mile swath of the central part of the city lay in ruins as search-and-rescue efforts continued; message boards on The Joplin Globe’s website lit up with pleas from readers across the country looking for any news of their loved ones.

Adam Crowe, assistant director of Emergency Management for Johnson County, said the first concern of the organization would be to save the county’s residents.

“Our number one priority is to find whatever ways possible to preserve life and property,” Crowe said. “After that, we can coordinate search-and-rescue teams, find shelter (for displaced residents) and the like.”

Emergency Management has coordinated partnerships with the Greater Kansas City chapter of the American Red Cross, as well as the Salvation Army. Both organizations are designed to offer shelter, clothing and food to those displaced by natural disasters.

However, in a case in which residents need to seek immediate shelter during an extreme weather event, the organization has a list of buildings and structures throughout the KC metro area that may serve as storm shelters. In order to be designated as shelters, those buildings must meet certain criteria, such as being strong enough to sustain high winds and flying debris.

“We put out (the list of shelters) to the local media if an event were to occur, as well as (broadcast the list) through social networking sites,” Crowe said. “We’d even go knocking on doors ourselves if need be.”

As is usually the case with severe weather, Johnson County’s Emergency Management officials sent trained tornado spotters throughout the county on Saturday night. If the spotters identify a tornado, as they did last weekend, they are instructed to contact Emergency Management officials, who then activate tornado sirens throughout the county.

Also, in the event of severe weather, representatives from Emergency Management keep in contact with local government liaisons from each of the county’s 21 communities.

Local and area agencies such as Johnson County’s Fire District No. 1 stand at the ready to help direct residents to shelters and organizations such as the Red Cross or Salvation Army, said Fire Battalion Deputy Chief Rob Kirk.

“We’d be notified (of a tornado) at the same time as everyone else,” Kirk said. “We make sure that if anyone needs help, they get what they need.”

Crowe said the best way for Johnson County residents can be personally prepared for a tornado by following three steps.

First, he said, individuals and families should prepare a basic emergency kit with enough food, water and basic supplies to last for 72 hours. Secondly, they should identify a designated shelter in which to wait out a tornado or storm. Finally, Crowe said, individuals and families should stay informed about the progress of a storm or tornado in the area. This can be done, he said, by purchasing a weather radio or signing up for a text message service with the county. The service notifies residents of storm and tornado watches, warnings and weather advisories.

For more information on storm preparedness, visit www.jocoem.org or call 782-3038.