What's the frequency?

Friday, April 6, 2007
Kim Hyten

County EMA, corporations choose one radio channel for weather conditions

By JASON MOON, Assistant Editor

Severe weather rushed through Putnam County Tuesday, putting several officials on the spot.

The four county schools had to make a decision. Would they hold students back and not release them to buses while the storm was passing through? Or would they release the students?

Three of the four corporations chose to hold the students until the storms passed through the area and all three believed they made the correct decision.

On Thursday, officials from the four schools discussed the situation at the Putnam County Safe Schools Committee with Putnam County Emergency Management Agency Director Kim Hyten.

Hyten approached the committee Thursday proposing all four corporations use a specific channel on recently purchased radios to indicate severe weather conditions.

In September 2006, three Putnam County agencies -- the Putnam County Health Dept., EMA and Putnam County Sheriff's Dept. -- purchased hand-held 800 megahertz radios for each corporation's school safety specialist.

On Thursday, Hyten told the committee this was the first EMA had been staying in contact with the corporations, but he wanted to establish a separate channel on the radios for updates on weather conditions.

He added that Putnam County dispatch was going to start broadcasting weather conditions on 800 band radios.

Hyten also suggested the corporations put together a template of protocol for inclement weather conditions.

"That's so we can all be on the same page," Hyten said.

When the storms ripped through the county Tuesday, Cloverdale had to hold students nearly 30 minutes prior to releasing them while Greencastle held students for almost 15 minutes. South Putnam held students for nearly 15 minutes as well while North Putnam did not have to hold students.

"We'd rather have them in a building than on a bus," Hyten said.

Cloverdale High School Principal Sonny Stoltz said all parents he had spoken with were fine with the students not being released on time Tuesday.

South Putnam High School Assistant Principal Dan Bain said bus drivers reported to the school Tuesday that strong winds and heavy rains made it difficult to see while driving.

"My feeling is, always err on the side of caution," Bain said. "These systems pass through quickly. That's just my gut feeling."

Hyten said the process would help the corporations receive early notification on whether they should release students during severe weather conditions, establishing better communication.

"We will work closely with you on weather conditions," Hyten said.

However, Greencastle Middle School Principal Shawn Gobert expressed concern, especially about setting up a template of protocol regarding severe weather conditions for all the corporations to follow.

"What makes me nervous about absolute protocol is what's happening in Cloverdale may not be happening at North Putnam," Gobert said. "I would hate to lock us into (protocol)."

Gobert said he hoped there would be some flexibility regarding the situation.

"That's fine," Hyten agreed.

However, some committee members expressed concern about how parents would find out if students are being released or held back during severe weather.

Hyten said county-wide weather sirens would help with that.

He said there are 13 weather sirens strategically placed in the county, but said the closest one to the South Putnam corporation campus was one at the Putnam County Jail.

He said the remaining three corporations had weather sirens close enough to hear.

The committee agreed to use a specific channel on the radios to listen for weather updates.

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