CLEVELAND - Friday was not only the Statewide Tornado Drill in White County, but also the launch of the county's newest severe weather warning siren on the campus of Mossy Creek Elementary School.
The school, located on Westmoreland Road just off U.S. Highway 129, went into drill mode just after 9 a.m., with students donning their storm helmets and sheltering in interior classrooms.
White County District 2 Commission Lyn Holcomb was one of those who observed Friday morning's drill.
"Since 2005, when the tornadoes were spawned from Hurricane Katrina there was some devastating damage up in the City of Helen," Holcomb said. "At that time, we committed to being more ready alert, weather alert."
Holcomb explained where White County warning preparedness was in 2005, and where it is now.
"At that time, we only had three weather sirens, one of those being over 50 years old," Holcomb said. "Since 2005, we have a total of 17 weather sirens. Today this will be 18. We're committed to very soon we hope to have coverage for the whole county."
Currently, there are 15 public and three private sirens in White County, four of those added in 2013.
"Right now we have approximately 11,000 residences that are covered, 200 businesses and, of course, all the schools in the county," Holcomb said.
The 15 public sirens all were purchased with the aid of grant money (with the county's portion at 25 percent or less of the cost).
"We're excited today about adding this one to Mossy Creek [Elementary] and District 2, especially here in the back yard of the school," Holcomb said.
Holcomb noted the primary coverage of the Mossy Creek Elementary siren is a "densely populated area."
Figures from White County Public Safety/Emergency Management Agency Director David Murphy show the new siren covers 151 single-family residences, one multi-family residential property, 342 mobile homes, 28 commercial properties, three industrial properties (Cobb Vantress, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and Candler Concrete Co.), and three public/institutional properties. Murphy said normal outdoor range for a siren is 1.5 miles.
"I just live a couple of miles down the road and I've always had to rely on the one from the City of Clermont, so it's going to be nice to be able to hear this one now," Holcomb said.
Holcomb praised Murphy and his staff.
"Mr. Murphy does a fantastic job for this county," Holcomb said. "We're very fortunate to have him. They look after us. We feel safe, and certainly peace of mind is priceless. We are very fortunate to have him and his staff, and for them to do the job that they do."
Murphy explained more about the Statewide Tornado Drill, rescheduled from Wednesday due to the threat of severe weather.
"All schools had a drill," Murphy said. "Mrs. King and her staff, as always, they do a great job here. Again, that was evident today by what we saw, so they're to be commended."
White County School Superintendent Jeff Wilson was pleased with the drill.
"I thought the siren was great," Wilson said. "It was very clear. We definitely can hear it."
Murphy said county emergency personnel used Friday's rescheduled Statewide Tornado Drill to evaluate the county's warning siren system.
"It's a good day for us to make sure they're going to be ready and working for the upcoming severe weather season," Murphy said. "We had somebody assigned to every siren today to observe it, to see how it operates, to make sure it did operate. For whatever reason if they did not, maintenance departments will be working on that next week."
After a question from Wilson, Murphy said the county's 9-1-1 dispatch center can broadcast an alert tone over the school system's bus channel to alert bus drivers, who may be on the road, of impending severe weather.
"We actually had the school system to move over to the same type digital radio system that the county has with their public safety services," Murphy said.
System officials and county officials agreed Friday morning's drill was good for both governments.
"We want to help in any way we can," Holcomb told school officials. "We'll do whatever we need to do. We want to know our kids are safe."
"Absolutely, because they're all ours," Wilson said.