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Westmont hopes to prepare public with severe weather seminar

Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT
Caption
( Matthew Piechalak — mpiechalak@shawmedia.com)
Greg Pantke, deputy coordinator of the Westmont Emergency Management Agency, stands below the village's emergency alert siren, located behind the Twin Lakes Learning Center, on March 29. The Westmont Fire Department is working to prepare residents for severe storm season.

WESTMONT — With spring's arrival comes the threat of severe weather.

In an effort to train and prepare the community for the dangers of severe storms, the Westmont Fire Department will host a Severe Weather Training Seminar at 7 p.m. Monday at the Westmont Fire Department Headquarters, 6015 S. Cass Ave.

Westmont Fire Chief Dave Weiss said the seminar will inform residents and business people who work in the village about severe storms, the differences between watches and warnings, alerts and how they can prepare themselves and others.

"The program will train residents on what to look for, who they should notify and what they can do to protect themselves and their families," Weiss said.

National Weather Service representatives will also offer training on how to spot severe weather. "Storm spotters are often the earliest warning signs when it comes to severe weather and can see things even before warnings are issued," Weiss added.

While the village has been holding this severe weather program for the past few years, it was typically not widely publicized — in past years in what was strictly for members of the Westmont Emergency Management Agency, a group of civilian volunteers who assist the Westmont Police and Fire Department in emergency situations.

But with the uptick in severe weather over the last few years, the village has expanded the program to the public, Weiss said.

Glenn Sharkey, a member of the village's EMA, said the training offered in the seminar is invaluable.

"Through our training, we have the same access to radar and other technology that the news people have when it comes to looking at storms, and how to red them," Sharkey said. Weiss said the most important thing that residents can do in the event of severe weather is heed to warnings.

The village operares a storm siren system, which is activated when severe weather is spotted within five miles of the village. Those sirens are the most effective way to alert the community, Weiss said, but often times aren't taken serious.

"When we activate the warning sirens, the threat is very serious and many times residents either don't take them seriously or don't know what to do when the sirens go off," Weiss said. "The community needs to understand, and this one of the biggest aspects that we are trying to get across to our residents."

Sharkey mentioned false alarms in the past regarding the sirens that have affected residents' confidence in them.

One of the ways the village has gotten the word out to the community in recent years has been through the EMA, consisting of about 35 trained volunteers in the the village that have been working to make sure that residents are aware of the dangers that severe weather poses.

"The recent trends have been that dangerous weather events has been occurring more frequently, and more severe. And it is only going to get worse," Weiss said. "We, as a community, need to be prepared as best as we possibly can."

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