This includes Cleveland and Bradley County, a community still in the midst of recovery from five killer tornadoes that swept through on this dark day and night, taking nine precious lives, destroying 285 homes, badly damaging more than 300 others and leveling 10 businesses.
Our massive rebuild remains a work in progress, but much has been accomplished. More lies in wait. It isn’t a speedy process, but it is a deliberate one whose steps are being climbed one family at a time.
Yet the restoration of our hometown is but one piece to this jigsaw puzzle created by those devastating storms. Another piece is finding ways to save lives if ever the same villain assaults our community again. And it will. Violent weather, and specifically tornadoes, have become a way of life in this new Tornado Alley of the Southeast.
The Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency has worked feverishly for the past 15 months to explore new notification systems. One had been identified with a new first-alert program called Nixle. This preliminary version already was notifying area residents via cellphones of pending storms. In a recent announcement, the Salvation Army Cleveland Corps did its part by presenting an oversized $44,625 check to Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis and EMA Director Troy Spence that will pay for the Nixle service for the next three years.
Sgt. Ruthie Forgey, corps administrator for Salvation Army in Cleveland, explained it best as she reflected back on the horrors of April 2011, while looking ahead to a future dedicated to saving lives.
“April 27, 2011, was a day none of us could have imagined,” Forgey said in a press conference. “It was a day of tragedy in Southeast Tennessee and the Northwest Georgia area. True to our spirit here in the Southeast, we rose to the occasion and were able to get behind our community.”
In the aftermath of these storms, local residents chipped in almost $400,000 toward recovery. The Salvation Army has doled out an additional $1.5 million in emergency response, development and storm recovery funds in these neighboring corners of Tennessee and Georgia that endured some of the most severe damage from the tornado outbreak.
Although Nixle has been operating locally for about a year, its messaging has been limited to cellphone texts and emails. Spence reports voice alerts could be added through landlines within the next two months.
In the approach of powerful tornadoes whether their severity has been gauged at EF-0 or EF-5, Nixle will not save houses, businesses, infrastructure or hospitals. That which lies in the path of these monsters must continue to rely upon fate, and faith, for their well-being. But each is a physical structure. All can be replaced.
Nixle’s priority is to save human life, the most precious gift of all and that which can never be replaced.
In our hometown, those murderous tornadoes not only stole nine lives, they changed lives of hundreds of area residents for years to come — and perhaps some forever. This is what emergency notification seeks to protect. Nixle is but one method. Others are out there and still more will be devised as modern technology continues its trek into this new and advanced system of life.
Continued improvements will take time. Some will come with cost.
Until then, the willingness of organizations like Salvation Army to make a difference in the life of their community will be paramount in the safekeeping of our future.
We thank Salvation Army for this endearing gift to the people of Cleveland and Bradley County.
We credit this fine organization for its longstanding partnership, and its genuine friendship, toward anyone who finds rescue and sanctity within the Salvation Army outreach.