There was no storm on the horizon the day that Harris County Commissioner Harry Lange took a disaster preparedness class with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

But five months later, when a tornado churned through his west Georgia community, Lange and Harris County first responders had an up-to-date disaster response plan in place to guide their recovery efforts.

“My feeling was, ‘We know how to respond to this,’” Lange said. “We had reviewed the preparedness plan, updated it and we knew what bases we needed to touch.”

Lange had attended a Disaster and Emergency Preparedness class during a training conference presented by the Vinson Institute in partnership with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG).

The class inspired him to return home, dust off the existing Harris County disaster response plan, and spearhead an effort to update it, prioritizing response and recovery needs.

On March 3, a tornado ripped through Harris County, damaging homes and leveling thousands of trees. The county was prepared, Harris County Manager Randall Dowling said.

“I think that the response was smoother since the county had a recent update to its operation plan,” Dowling said.

Since the tornado flattened most of the trees in a newly completed park, county leaders quickly decided that area temporarily would serve as a storm debris drop-off site for cleanup crews and the public, Lange said.

A tornado damaged homes and uprooted trees in Harris County.

On May 29, Lange met with department heads and other commissioners to review their response to the emergency, to discuss what worked and what they can do better. They used that information to further update the county’s disaster response plan.

The daylong Disaster and Emergency Preparedness class is part of the Lifelong Learning Academy continuing education program that the Vinson Institute and ACCG provide for commissioners and other county government officials. The class is designed to help county leaders learn more about out how planning can improve disaster response, explore their roles and responsibilities, and offer practical guidance on post-disaster action steps, said Mara Shaw, leadership development program manager at the Vinson Institute.

“At the end of the day, (Lange) commented about how much he had learned about his role in an emergency situation and the homework he needed to do when he got back to Harris County,” Shaw said. “Then, he put his learning into action. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”


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