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Tornado’s damage extends beyond buildings

Posted on 05/19/2018
Tornado’s damage extends beyond buildingsStory by Baker Geist, Weld County Communications Specialist

For Dave Long, memories of the Weld County tornado consist of many things; the wild day he and others experienced on May 22, 2008, and the pride he feels in how Weld County government responded to the needs of residents in the days following the storm.

“It was a normal morning, but people were noticing how the wind out of the southeast was so strong. People were remarking about that, and it did seem a little odd,” Long said.

Weld County Commissioner for district one at the time, Long’s activities that day included attending the Greeley Stampede kickoff luncheon. Shortly after he arrived and as he was meeting others in attendance, Long received a phone call from then Public Works Director Pat Persichino alerting him to a tornado in south county travelling north before the call was disconnected.

Long relayed the information received to Greeley Tribune editor Randy Bangert who was standing close. As the two were talking, Persichino called again and relayed the severity of the tornado based off conversations he’d had with other Public Works staff throughout the county. Shortly after the call ended, Long said he received reports the storm had gone through Windsor. Then, he received reports that a second tornado was heading for east Greeley.

Aware of a non-profit transitional house in downtown Greeley in the path of the tornado, Long headed there to spread the word to residents about the impending tornado and help everyone get to safety.

After making sure everyone was downstairs and that the tornado danger had passed the transitional house, Long decided to go to Windsor. Although many communities were impacted by the tornado, Windsor was hit hardest. According to the town’s recovery report, the tornado caused more than $100 million in damages and displaced 168 families.

With many years of experience in social services and metal health prior to becoming a commissioner, Long wanted to see if he could comfort the residents in some way.

“I wanted to look and make sure that people were okay as far as any trauma or shock,” Long said.

Long’s help went beyond evaluating residents for trauma. In Windsor, after he spoke to other commissioners on the phone, a disaster declaration was made. The following day, commissioners met with numerous people including the Sheriff’s Office and Windsor Mayor John Vazquez to see what the community’s needs were. Long said he and Department of Human Services Director Judy Griego also made sure a plan was in place that would allow people in Windsor access to whatever support program they needed.

Long said he continued visiting Windsor for four or five days after the event, often arriving at 6:30 a.m. and arriving home by midnight. Now the Human Services Director for Logan County, he believes that while there were minor challenges with communication, the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Weld County government were effective in serving the needs of residents. Long said networking that had gone on between Weld County and first responders from other counties around the state before the tornado helped in recovery efforts. He also explained that staff’s familiarity with each other surprised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), when it arrived to set up its emergency response center in the days following the tornado.

“FEMA was amazed because we already knew what to and we knew each other well enough that we could count on each other,” Long said. "That was really gratifying."

Long also mentioned that familiarity helped with the effectiveness of Weld County’s response to the tornado. Given rapidly changing situation that the tornado presented and the many residents needing assistance, Long said he’s proud that the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and Weld County government had a plan in place to meet the needs of citizens when they needed it most.

“We were prepared,” Long said. “And the relationships built before hand – before the event – meant we didn’t have to start from scratch.”

Improvements to Emergency Notification

Long is also proud of the steps Weld County took following the tornado to further improve emergency notification and preparedness. A commissioner from 2001 until 2012, he explained how he worked with Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, OEM Director Roy Rudisill and Colorado Department of Local Affairs Regional Manager Don Sandoval to secure grant funding tornado sirens for many small communities in the path of the tornado.

Additionally, upon becoming commissioner, Long worked on updating the county’s Emergency Operations Plan with the help of current Rudisill. Also, OEM was eventually moved from the Sheriff’s Office and to the Board of Commissioners Office, which allowed all governmental departments to have a greater role in emergency response.