PLATTE COUNTY – Terry Stevenson, the emergency management coordinator for Platte County has been busy learning about all the things that new emergency response software can offer. In a system that hadn’t been upgraded in two decades, the county was overdue for an improvement.
Stevenson, a Wheatland High School graduate said that there has been some severe weather around the county recently, and an upgrade to the software system was a prudent move. It was decided in 2004 the sirens in the county needed upgrading and with grant money available a decision was made to put all of the controls for that system in the Wheatland courthouse at the dispatch center. Before that the individual towns would run their own sirens.
At that time the sirens came with software that is now outdated and had the ability to only be loaded to one computer because it is only a single application. If that computer goes down, then the only way to place an alert is to manually trip a switch at dispatch.
“The upgrade path is changed to where it takes a whole different kind of setup in order to operate it,” Stevenson said. “We decided that we needed to take that step and there will be several advantages for us. We are going to get the new software system installed on a server so it will be available from multiple computers and is actually available through a browser.”
The new software which came with a price tag of $15,000 has the capability of not just setting off the sirens, but also doing other kinds of communication like sending out text messages and they can send those to personnel who may be responding to the tornado.
“I’m still looking at some of the features,” Stevenson said. “We haven’t gone through the training yet to show us all of the features that is has, but I think that it’s also going to be a way for people to sign up so that if they are in a place where they can’t hear a siren, we can find a way to get the signal to them through a text message.”
Stevenson said that they are hoping to have the software system up and running and fully on line before their annual tornado test in mid-May.
The threat of tornadoes are very real in this part of the country.
“I’ve talked to the National Weather Service about the history of tornadoes here,” Stevenson said. “We have about half the number that Goshen County has, and they are just next door to the east. I teased my counterpart in Goshen county that we start the storms and send them over there.”
Stevenson said we are not immune and Platte County does get tornadic activity, and because of that, it is imperative that the emergency response system is up-to-date and working properly. There are several sirens placed strategically all over the county.
“We’ve got four in Wheatland,” he said. “We also control one in Chugwater, one in Glendo, one in Hartville and two in Guernsey. Those are all controlled from right here at the dispatch center.”
The dispatch center is in constant communication with the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, and the progression is usually an initial report of severe weather in the area and then actual reports of severe weather.
“Typically, when it comes to tornadoes, it’s unusual to have a tornado actually happen without a tornado watch coming before that,” Stevenson said. “A tornado watch is issued when the weather is conducive to the formation of tornadoes. When that happens, we will send out a ‘code red’ which is our Reverse 911 to everybody in the county because it’s a countywide watch.”
The National Weather Service states that 70% of the time, when a watch is issued, a tornado or funnel cloud happens.
“This year in Wyoming there is a Statewide severe weather awareness week in mid-May,” he said. “We’ll put some information in the newspaper and also during that week we will do a siren test. That way we’ll know that our systems are working. We do a full test with a full three-minute blast so that everybody in town can hear it and know what it sounds like.”