ATLANTA – Jasper County’s 13,900 self-sufficient residents, most of them living in rural areas, have survived more than their share of tornadoes.
On April 27, 2011, while severe storms destroyed homes and killed 14 in Georgia, a tornado hovered for several terrifying moments over Monticello, county seat of Jasper. It finally moved on, touching down 15 miles outside of town. Four homes were damaged, a barn leveled, and hundreds of acres of timberland destroyed. Dawn found windows shattered, walls splintered and torn, and scarred raw red earth where stately trees had stood for decades. But the important thing is that no one was injured or killed. Everyone got the warning and took shelter.
On the historic town square of Monticello, a modern tornado siren perches atop the three-story City Hall, contrasting starkly with the turn-of-the-century courthouse made of Georgia marble and brick with its four columns and eight-sided, domed clock tower. These contrasts exemplify this quiet town where both tradition and the safety of the residents are essential elements.
Getting storm warnings to everyone can be a daunting task when 2,600 people live inside the city limits with the remaining 11,300 spread over 372 square miles. In 2009, after two tornadoes damaged 30 structures, the county installed three tornado sirens.
“We put one in Monticello, one in Shady Dale and one at Jackson Lake,” said Jasper County Emergency Management Director Melissa Slocumb. “We’re adding two more sirens, and are negotiating with a web-based voice and text emergency notification system that will be able to notify everyone in the county within a few minutes.”
When the two additional sirens are installed in the Jackson Lake area the result will be coverage of the entire populated marina area.
Most residents of this county who are out of range of the existing tornado sirens must rely on other methods of warning such as television and radio broadcasts, cell phone applications and especially NOAA radios. The NOAA radio frequency has a strong signal across all of Jasper County so residents can receive weather alerts as soon as they are issued.
Another effective, though unofficial, method is the county’s emergency radio system.
“The purpose of this system is to alert our emergency responders,” said Slocumb. “However, a lot of our residents have scanners. If our office broadcasts a warning about an approaching storm, we know many of the rural residents will be listening and can take shelter.”
One of the four homes damaged in the April 27 tornado was that of a Monticello volunteer firefighter who heard the warning over her scanner and took shelter.
The area has not always been so well prepa...