By Sonya Campbell
Harker Heights Herald
Anyone who has experienced severe weather knows how quickly the situation can turn deadly.
In Bell County, we are fortunate to have numerous professionals and volunteers who work hard to ensure they are adequately prepared to respond in the event of a disaster - natural and manmade.
Recently, I had an opportunity to meet with representatives from Bell County's Office of Emergency Management, who provided insight into storms of the past that ravaged parts of the county, as well as looming threats.
I used the word "looming" in reference to the change in seasons coming up in the April-May time frame.
The transition from winter to spring is one of the most active times of the year when it comes to the potential for storms.
According to the county's emergency management coordinator, Dennis Baker, the months of May and September have traditionally been marked by an increase in weather-related events.
Flooding, especially flash floods, is a leading concern.
In fact, the most recent disaster experienced locally was the flood this past September that left numerous people homeless - some of whom are still struggling to recover.
There also is the potential for other types of weather-related problems in our area, including tornadoes, straight-line winds and hail.
And, believe it or not, wildfires are considered "weather-related phenomena" due to the wind, Baker said.
Wind most likely has the biggest impact on wildfires and adds an element of unpredictability.
But the Bell County community has several resources at its disposal to help predict a looming crisis and to respond in the event one should occur.
In addition to county and city officials, as well as those at Fort Hood, law enforcement officers, firefighters, hospital workers and support staff routinely train to respond in times of disaster.
When the flood occurred this past September, swift-water rescue teams, boats and helicopters were called in to assist victims. Also, numerous volunteers, including amateur radio operators and trained weather spotters, are part of the county's Skywarn Program.
The goal of the program is to provide timely and accurate weather observations to the National Weather Service and local government agencies.
Anyone can participate in the program. For more information about it, go to www.bellcountyoem.com.
In addition to personnel, the county has an emergency operations center for use in a crisis. The facility, which was used during the September flooding event, provides a secure location for officials overseeing response efforts, as well as work stations, communications equipment and other resources.
Outdoor warning systems in Killeen and Temple are meant to warn the public about potential danger.
In the event a disaster occurs, it could be days before vital services are restored to affected areas.
That's why it's also vital for individuals and families to be prepared to take care of themselves for a while if the need arises.
Suggestions include compiling survival essentials, such as water, food, a first aid kit, a 90-day supply of important medication and a weather-radio.
Creating a family plan is also a good idea. Sometimes family members are separated during a crisis and it simply makes sense to have a designated place to regroup.
Generally, it's comforting to know there are professionals and volunteers in the community who are focused on emergency response and who train regularly to ensure they are ready in the event of a crisis.
But it's important for individuals and families to be proactive, as well. Take a tip from the Boy Scouts - be prepared.