I

t may sound like a dry bureaucratic recognition, but Jackson County’s recent Storm Ready designation is a big deal.

That’s because, increasingly, storms are becoming a big deal.

According to the National Weather Service, America is the most weather-prone country on Earth, with 98 percent of all presidentially-declared disasters weather-related. The toll is around $15 billion in damage and 500 lives per year.

Here in the mountains, the topography plays a big role in weather damage. Over the last year we’ve seen more than our share of landslides, for example. That’s unsurprising, as we’ve seen numerous excessive rainfall events here in the Southern Appalachians. To our northwest, Mount Mitchell received 140.19 inches of rainfall in 2018, almost double the average and obliterating previous records.

Extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace, says the NWS. Thus, while no plan will make a community storm proof, it’s important to become Storm Ready.

The title comes as the culmination of an application process started by Jackson County Emergency Management.

“It’s about preparing our community for the increasing vulnerability to extreme weather,” said Todd Dillard, county emergency management director.

So what does being Storm Ready mean? It means participants must meet the following criteria to be certified: have a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center, have more than one way to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts, have more than one way to alert the public, have a system that monitors weather conditions locally − including having weather radios in public buildings – promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars, develop a formal hazardous weather plan including training severe weather spotters and hold emergency exercises.

The county already has these measures in place, including weather radios in all schools, the 911 center, Department of Social Services and many other public buildings. Emergency Management plans to add weather radios to places like the library in the future.

Dillard recommends every household have a weather radio.

“The way it is now we have so many apps that we can get on our mobile devices that (weather radios) are almost antiquated, but they’re really not,” Dillard said. “We still want everyone to have a weather radio, especially one that has a battery backup.”

Dillard also strongly recommends the county’s Code Red service.

Code Red allows participants to receive real-time warnings and updates from the county in emergency situations via telephone, email or text.

“It’s a great tool in our toolbox; I cannot promote Code Red enough,” Dillard said. “We can go from street level all the way up to countywide notifications.”

The signup for the system is on the county’s website, jacksonnc.org, at the bottom of the page. The service is free and Jackson County does not share users’ information.

Applying and qualifying for the Storm Ready designation did not cost the county any money.

But sooner or later, we guarantee it will save money in the form an informed citizenry, folks that will know to hunker down when the next flood, windstorm or heavy snow is inbound.

That’ll make them safer, and Dillard’s difficult job hopefully a bit easier.