FORT WORTH -- In the wake of a storm that surprised with its intensity, Fort Worth's Office of Emergency Management is taking steps to make sure its Emergency Operations Center is activated faster for small but intense storms.
The changes are being presented to the Fort Worth City Council this week, and they've already been implemented.
They came about after the department did a review following the severe thunderstorms and EF-0 tornado that passed through Fort Worth in the early morning hours of March 29. The storm was powerful enough to destroy homes and buildings and down trees and power lines, including the live wire in a public park that later killed two young brothers, Isaiah and Alex Lopez.
But the City's Emergency Operations Center, which coordinates emergency response across departments, wasn't activated until daylight, hours after the storm.
"It was activated about 7:30 in the morning," said Keith Wells, Fort Worth's senior emergency management officer. "The storms rolled through much earlier."
Wells said that overnight, the severity of the storm was not clear.
"It was a smaller event, and it's just not as obvious that we need to activate the EOC," said Wells. "We weren't getting reports of injuries, buildings damaged, things like that."
The new changes, already implemented, should address the delay.
Wells said that EOC officials will now be included on email reports from workers at the Transportation & Public Works Department indicating downed trees and blocked streets. That information can now be used to activate the EOC faster after smaller storms.
"It should allow us within an hour or two after the storm has passed to determine whether we do have a situation or we don't," said Wells.
The Emergency Operations Center is a state-of-the-art facility equipped with communications gear to get different city departments on the same page after an emergency, including Parks and Recreation, Transportation and Public Works, and Code Compliance.
The EOC does not coordinate response for downed power lines, a responsibility that falls under the purview of the Fort Worth Fire Department and Oncor, Wells said.
The changes are not a response to the deaths of Isaiah and Alex Lopez, but to address City response to issues like blocked streets and downed trees.
"We really don't have that many smaller storms with this level of impact," said Wells. "The City performed quite well, but we want to strive for continual improvement."
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