North Richland Hills joins countywide emergency management effort

NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- Hoping to improve coordination with area cities and agencies, North Richland Hills has joined a countywide emergency management effort.

The move is not expected to increase the city's costs, Fire Chief Stan Tinney said.

North Richland Hills will continue to operate its sirens and emergency response plan, said Melissa Patterson, Tarrant County emergency management coordinator. But it will be able to better coordinate resources with other jurisdictions, Tinney wrote in a memo to the City Council.

An emergency can include a severe drought, an explosion or the release of hazardous materials. But in North Richland Hills, the more common threat for widespread damage comes from storms and tornadoes.

The city will activate its sirens when hail is expected to be 1 inch in diameter, when winds are expected to exceed 60 mph, when a tornado is likely or when heavy rain is expected to pose a significant danger, Assistant Fire Chief Kirk Marcum said. The sirens are meant to warn people outdoors to take cover, he said.

Residents indoors receive automated telephone calls after the National Weather Service in Fort Worth issues warnings about dangerous weather.

The National Weather Service's standards for warnings are similar to the city's. Weather Service meteorologist Dennis Cavanaugh said the standards include hail 1 inch or larger in diameter, winds at or greater than 50 knots (58 mph), and when radar picks up rotation in a thunderstorm or when a trained spotter reports a tornado or the potential for a tornado.

Standards for rain are more subjective, but warnings are issued based on the potential for flooding, Cavanaugh said.

The city's role

Tarrant County and Fort Worth recertified an emergency management plan in March. North Richland Hills has a similar plan.

Here's how those plans unfold:

Emergency responders go to the scene. They remain in command until the issue is resolved or until a person or group with legal authority takes over.

An incident command system is created. The first responder becomes the system's commander until a more senior or more qualified person arrives. The commander will isolate the scene, direct the response, provide an assessment of the situation to local officials, identify the resources required and oversee other actions, such as traffic control.

If needed, the public will be alerted and requests for help will be made to nonprofit groups, such as the Red Cross, industries and individuals with needed resources, and to the state and federal government.

At some point, the mayor might declare an emergency, which allows a community to receive state and federal disaster assistance.