Crisis coordinators keep campus safe

Severe weather

Lightning can strike the same place twice, and tornadoes don’t sound like freight trains. Those were two of the weather-related myths debunked Monday by Alex Gibbs of the National Weather Service in Peachtree City.

Gibbs presented a “Storm Spotter” course to a group of Kennesaw State University campus crisis coordinators as part of National Preparedness Month. There are more than 200 crisis coordinators across campus who are trained in emergency preparedness, emergency response, crisis mitigation, first aid, CPR, AED and security awareness.

“The theory that lightning never strikes the same place twice is absolutely false,” Gibbs said. “The same strike can charge 10 to 15 times, and this occurs in fractions of a second.”

As a bona fide storm chaser himself, Gibbs said up close, tornadoes sound like waterfalls. He equated the proverbial freight train sound analogy to the crushing of debris in the tornado’s wake.

“The difference between an SLC – a scary looking cloud – and a tornado is rotation,” Gibbs said. “If it ain’t rotating, it ain’t a problem.”

Gibbs said local storm spotters are crucial to weather forecasts the National Weather Service issues.

“We need spotters because all of our tools have limitations,” he said. “We’re looking at things that happen at 6,000 feet, and tornadic activity happens below 6,000 feet. Spotters provide valuable ground truth as to what may or may not be occurring underneath a storm.”

Robert Lang, assistant vice president of Strategic Security and Safety, said the Storm Spotter course is part of a larger “posture of preparedness” at the university.

“We try to educate as part of our Crisis Coordinator program what to look for and why they shouldn't panic when they see bad weather coming in that may look like a tornado forming, but is really not,” Lang said. “We hope the crisis coordinators learn there are many types of storms, and indicators (of severity) are usually pretty close to being accurate. The course will teach them by looking at cloud formations, levels of the clouds, types of clouds, etc., when to start preparing to take shelter and when it’s not necessary.”

With a majority of the events hosted by or at the Owls’ Nest and Perch held outside, crisis coordinator Laura St. Onge said the Storm Spotter course was a valuable endeavor.

“Learning about the different types of clouds and cloud formations, and how to use that information to know when a storm is going to break up, or come harder, is invaluable to us,” she said. “With this information we can determine how to reschedule an event if necessary and how to plan ahead.”

--Jennifer Hafer