Emergency managers meet, discuss what they’ve learned since deadly Cherrystone tornado

Posted at 7:14 PM, Mar 18, 2015
and last updated 2015-03-18 19:14:23-04

Hampton, Va. - Officials say alerts on cell phones and better communication are two important keys they've learned since the deadly Cherrystone Campground tornado last July in order to keep people safe.

"I knew that campground like the back of my hand. And I knew the vulnerability. And I knew if it was a tornado, something really, really bad could have happened," said Bill Sammler, Meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Wakefield.

Last summer, an EF-1 tornado ripped through the Eastern Shore.  Three people died and dozens were injured.

That tornado hit home for Sammler - so close to home, that he's worked hard to learn from that storm that caused so much damage.

"There's no question, it could've been worse," said Sammler.

Sammler and several emergency managers and first responders from across the state have gathered in Hampton Roads this week.  Among their topics - the response to the Cherrystone tornado and what's being done to make sure people are VIPIReady if and when another storm rolls through.

"While we promote NOAA Weather Radio as a primary means to get warning information, it doesn't warn you where you are," said Sammler.

Instead, Sammler says Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which appear on cell phones during severe weather, can alert you of a tornado warning wherever you are.

"The fact that people got that tornado warning via their cell phone - I think that was a huge lesson learned. That said, you know, this is a way that we need to continue to go," said Sammler.

Hollye Carpenter, Emergency Management Coordinator for Northampton County, Virginia, says more work and better coordination still has to be done.  That's especially true at campgrounds along the Eastern Shore, in order to keep people VIPIReady.

"Where we move at this point - that we can work with those campgrounds to ensure that they're providing adequate information to the campers to ensure their safety, proper signage on the grounds," said Carpenter.

The annual Virginia Emergency Management Symposium wraps up this Friday at the Hampton Roads Convention Center in Hampton.