BROOKVILLE — The tornado that touched down near Brockway in August makes National Preparedness Month, which is this month, seem more important than ever before.
Jefferson County EMS Director Tracy Zents recently sat down with the Tri-County Sunday to talk about Brockway’s tornado, sirens, storm damage and more.
Conditions have to be right to meet any kind of alert for tornado. The weather sirens that are set up or intended for tornado indicate that the potential for tornado is imminent or coming.
“We have direct links with the National Weather Service where they’ll send us information if there is a tornado warning for the area or something is showing on radar that indicates rotation. If it’s imminent that we know it’s going to hit like right now, we can activate those sirens right away however we ask that it be done on the local level to start with,” Zents said.
“For example what occurred up in Brockway with the tornado warning, they activated the siren themselves. Now if it was in the middle of the night or they couldn’t get to the station or get to a radio to activate it, we have that potential to activate it as well.”
If the sirens cannot be set off locally for whatever reason, then the local agency responsible for the sirens will contact the county Emergency Services Center and the staff there will set them off. Usually at the local level it is the emergency management coordinator or the local fire department that handles setting off a weather siren when needed.
In Brockway, the Snyder Township sirens are under the Snyder Township Emergency Management coordinator, Zents said. “So he would actually activate it on that level, however we could still activate if needed to from this location (Emergency Service Center in Brookville).” In Brookville, it is the Brockville Volunteer Fire Co. “They have it programed into their portable radios as well as we have it programed into the console here.” In Punxsutawney it would be from the center or through the local EMS coordinator.
Some of the communities in Jefferson County have a weather siren but it is activated on the local level. “We don’t have access to it. These are the ones that the technology allows us to activate them.”
“We kind of activate the same way as we do for a fire call. We activate the tones and it trips the relays and sounds the sirens at the stations,” Zents explained.
“Eventually the ones that do have them (weather sirens), we’d eventually like to be able to back them up and have that but that all comes down to how a community wants to approach that type of thing.”
Boots on the ground
Zents says there is a reason for the local coordinator or fire department to be the one to sound the weather siren first if at all possible and that simply comes down to the fact that they are there and have eyes on the situation.
“We’re not seeing conditions that are occurring at those locations. If we get that tornado warning, we’re going to let all the proper agencies know what the warning is from police, fire, EMS, EMA. They may have nothing going on in their area or it may be hitting them right away. So that’s why we say whatever you’re seeing you take that approach because you’re the ones ultimately seeing what’s going on in your communities.”
Knowing what’s coming
Zents says that the staff at the Service Center monitors the weather coming across. “We have a system called The Knowledge Center. It’s a portal that the Emergency Management Centers utilize for their resource tracking and incident management. When there’s storms coming across, we normally see it coming from the other counties so we can see what it’s bringing and can base our response” accordingly.
“We can kind of gauge what kind of impact it’s going to have here on the county. So if we need to increase our staff here we do,” Zents said in talking to the Tri-County Sunday about preparing for inclement weather.
In Brockway, “when the tornado hit and flooding was occurring,” the center did partial activation of emergency operation center “where we brought volunteers in to help with processing some of those calls, doing the damage assessment, being ready in case it got worst. It had the potential to get a lot worst than it did. We were lucky.”
“Our emergency operation center is always active. From the 911 center, that’s where it starts at. When we do a partial activation, we’re going to the next level where we’re bringing in additional volunteers and staff in to help. Then if it gets to the point it’s so severe, then we’ll do a full activation. We’ll bring everybody in and that includes our elected officials, our representatives from different groups like the Red Cross for sheltering, security, and representatives from state agencies that will help with the coordination and response from them.”
Is it a tornado?
“Lot of times when you get a down draft it will appear like it’s a tornado but if it’s moving straight and there’s no rotation, then it’s nothing. It’s just a cloud formation coming through.
“People think tornado is the worst case scenario,” Zents says, “however the wind sheer, down bursts and micro busts sometimes are more devastating as far as damage than a tornado is. A tornado will go in a direction and take a certain swath where a down burst or a micro bust straight line winds can cover a bigger area and just slam against the ground cause a lot more damage.”
He did add that obviously the higher tornados – EF0, EF1, EF2 – then there would be more devastating damage at that point.
With any of these type of conditions, people need to take heed of warnings. The severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings need to be taken seriously, Zents noted.
He said Jefferson County is at the very end of the NWS radar image coverage area. The radar sees clusters that can appear to have rotation in it. Because of it’s location in Moon Township near Pittsburgh, they coming off a slight elevation so they can depict those fronts moving in. By the time they get up to this area, they’re at such a high elevation where it’s a lot harder to pinpoint some of those storms ahead of time. To help, the center uses two programs to provide more information.
Rain gauge watchers that will let the center know if there is a lot of rain coming down in various areas so they can watch for potential flooding so flooding warnings can be issued. They also have a a program called Sky Warn, where individuals see the weather, understand the weather and cloud formations, can give some guidance ahead of time to broadcast or get warnings made.
It’s a partnership between the community, the Emergency Service Center in Brookville and the NWS to try to keep everybody safe.
Damage data helps
So how do they differentiate between tornado damage or damage from a micro burst?
If it is a macro burst all the trees will be laid in one direction. If it’s a tornado, Zents says, they will see a rotation path with debris here and there.
They look at everything closely. If a tree is snapped off they don’t just look at the tree as a whole but look to see if the tree is also twisted which would confirm the presence of rotating winds. While it doesn’t mean that it was a tornado just how the winds brought the tree down. Then the crews look at everything around it to determine if it was a tornado or straight line winds.
“When we first looked at the incident up in Brockway, up on Fermantown Road it appeared it was straight line winds until we got further down; we got down on Coder Road where a lot of the damage was done and we could tell then there was potential for rotation in that storm. By the collection of our damage (data) from our damage assessment teams we were able to forward that to the National Weather Service and preliminarily they determined it was an EF1 tornado and then they sent their ground team out to determine path, distance, so forth.”
Zents says the statistical data is collected because it helps in the reporting end. The NWS will look at what showed on the radar and will able to determine some of the warnings and watchers a little quicker.
“People have to prepare for these severe storms. Our emergency services, our first responders cannot do everything. We depend on our communities to help us in the response and the recovery. We will do what we can do to help these people out. We’ll get them the resources they need as quickly as we can but sometimes that takes time too being in a rural area we’re all competing for the same resources.
“We have a core group of volunteers and county employees that serve on the emergency operation staff that are really dedicated to help in that recovery process and they come from all walks of life. They have different backgrounds. Some used to be in fire service or ems that still can provide some guidance and help there; we have people who work for school districts that help in the event they need to take over a school to set up a shelter, etc.,” Zents said.
“Being at the far end of the radar range, we have to use every available bit of information we get to warn people; that’s what we do best.”
NEW BETHLEHEM — When it comes to New Bethlehem’s annual Peanut Butter Festival, there’s always the curiosity factor.
“People always stop at the festival to ask why New Bethlehem celebrates peanut butter,” festival organizer Dianna Brothers said. “A lot of people from outside the area, and even some locally, aren’t aware that New Bethlehem is home to the J.M. Smucker peanut butter factory.”
The three-day festival, which begins Friday afternoon, Sept. 14, and continues through Sunday, Sept. 16, is held in New Bethlehem’s Gumtown Park, nestled between Water Street and Red Bank Creek near the dam and bridge.
Brothers said the Redbank Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual event, now in its 23rd year, has grown considerably in that time, and now attracts visitors from all over the region, and even from out of state.
“We’re a known festival now,” she said. “We pull people in from so many places.
“People may travel in from out of state, but we’ve still been able to keep it a festival about community, family and a lot of free entertainment,” she said.
It’s also about peanut butter, too.
The chamber’s tent is stocked each year with all the varieties of peanut butter manufactured locally at the Smucker’s plant. Brothers said they will have the wildly popular chocolate and peanut butter, and honey and peanut butter varieties this year that people can purchase by the jar or case.
“Come early for those, they may not last long,” Brothers said, noting that the chamber also sells festival merchandise at the tent, as well as special peanut butter and chocolate treats made by the festival’s title sponsor, Char-Val Candies.
The festival officially kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. as the numerous food vendors and crafters open. Brothers said more food vendors than ever before will be on hand this year, and the park will also be filled with crafters and other booths.
“We are full,” she said this week. “We are squeezing in a few more food vendors and will have a full range of foods, including wings this year.”
Friday evening’s activities include the Wine Walk from 5 to 8 p.m., and the crowning of the Peanut Butter Festival queen at 6 p.m. on the stage, followed by the band, Son of Leroy, from 7 to 9 p.m. The evening will conclude with a fireworks display by Ace Pyro.
Saturday’s lineup starts early with the 5K race at 8 a.m. Crafters and vendors open at 9 a.m., the same time that the Peanut Butter Festival Cook-Off judging begins at the Kaminsky Dental building. At 10 a.m. the mountain bike race will get underway along Penn Street before heading into area’s rolling hills.
New this year, a wing eating contest will be held on the stage at 11:30 a.m., featuring super hot wings from local eatery, Zack’s.
The festival’s large parade will step off at 3 p.m. down Broad Street (Route 28), and the inflatable carnival will be held in the park from 4 to 8 p.m.
The evening’s entertainment features country rock band Everett Lee & Underground Stampede with two sets, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and 7:30 to 9 p.m.
On Sunday, the festival starts off with a motorcycle cruise at 10 a.m. Crafters and vendors open at 11 a.m., and the New Bethlehem Fire Co. will host a chicken dinner at the park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A number of local performers will take too the stage from noon to 1:30 p.m., and the inflatable carnival will be open from noon to 4 p.m.
The main event of the day is the annual Knight Cruisers Car Cruise along Water Street, which begins at noon. A tractor show will also be held on the lower end of Water Street from noon to 4 p.m.
The NBC Barbershop Chorus will perform on stage at 2 p.m., followed by Jimmy Swogger and Friends at 3 p.m.
The duck race on Red Bank Creek will be the final event of the afternoon at 3:30 p.m., with the festival closing at 5 p.m.
For more information, visit www.redbankchamber.com.
Elk County emergency responders are using bracelets equipped with transmitters to locate missing persons with disabilities.
According to Sheila Mazzaferro, assistive technology coordinator for Life and Independence for Today (LIFT), individuals with cognitive disabilities caused by Alzheimer’s disease, autism, dementia, Down syndrome and traumatic brain injury have a tendency to wander and become missing.
And according to members of the Elkland Search and Rescue, each individual experiences unique difficulties that make it hard to locate them once they do are missing.
Project Lifesaver, an international program, administered through LIFT in St. Marys, benefits Elk County residents and provides clients with a bracelet with a small transmitter that looks much like a watch to wear on the wrist or ankle and emits a unique radio frequency. The bracelet and transmitter are waterproof and are worn at all times.
Once a caregiver calls 911 to report the individual missing as a Project Lifesaver client, it will be treated as an emergency. Project Lifesaver receivers are then used to track the signal being emitted by the individual’s transmitter thus saving valuable time. Elkland Search and Rescue, the Sheriff’s department and LIFT each have a receiver.
“It really is a community effort,” said Terry Detsch, a member of Elkland Search and Rescue.
A missing person can travel four miles an hour, so time is of the essence, Dave Stauffer, a member of Elkland Search and Rescue, said.
Alzheimer’s patients tend to walk in a straight line and autistic children are attracted to water so the sooner a person is reported missing, the better the outcome, Jerry Zelt, a member of Elkland Search and Rescue, said.
There is no charge for the transmitter since costs have been covered through grants and donations.
“If you think some day your loved one could benefit from this, then call today,” Mazzaferro said. “The first time your loved one wanders off, it is too late.
“We have equipment ready to go,” Mazzaferro said.
Initially 30 bracelets were purchased with grant funding and only six of them are in use, she said.
Caregivers are the critical component of the program and have specific responsibilities to include a daily check of the battery, maintaining logs and immediately calling 911 if the client wanders away.
A doctor’s certification is required and an extensive interview is conducted to gather as much information as possible about the individual including likes, dislikes, fears and favorite clothing that will help in communicating when the person is found. This information is entered into a secure database, which Project Lifesaver and 911 emergency responders can access during a search.
Batteries are changed by a LIFT representative every 60 days during which time a general wellness check is conducted.
When LIFT approached Elk County Sheriff Todd Caltagarone about the program, he drew up the letter of intent then brought in Elkland Search and Rescue.
“I certainly couldn’t do it myself, it is a collaboration,” he said.
To learn more about Project Lifesaver and how it benefits disabled people and their families contact LIFT at (814) 781-3050 or visit www.projectlifesaver.org.