Ozark Border Electric teams up with first responders to safeguard community
The ice storm of 2009 may be a bad memory, but it’s never far from the minds of residents in southern Missouri. That may be especially true for anyone in the 11-county service area of Ozark Border Electric Cooperative who remembers the 3,000 poles that were wiped off the map or the dark days that followed when as many as 28,000 member-owners were without power.
As electric co-ops know best, power lines can be rebuilt and the lights will eventually be turned on again. It’s the potential loss of human life that keeps community pillars awake at night, and that’s why when natural disasters strike the area Ozark Border and the Butler County Emergency Management Agency share a common goal: helping the local population stay informed and prepared for bad weather.
“We’ve had a long-running tradition: If the local emergency management agencies need help, they know they can call us,” says Ozark Border Manager David Schremp. “It’s always been a two-way relationship.”
Butler County EMA Director Robbie Myers estimates the partnership stretches back at least 20 years when the Butler County Health Department purchased new tornado sirens. The EMA and the co-op worked together to choose locations where the equipment could be placed in order to reach the greatest number of residents. Ozark Border donated the use of personnel and bucket trucks to help mount the sirens.
“David, the board and the staff are always community-minded,” Robbie says, noting the co-op helps make the scene safe for EMA restoration efforts in the aftermath of storms. “We know we can count on them whether it’s time of emergency or time of planning.”
In addition to the tornado sirens, the Butler County EMA has two other resources for storm preparedness and warning. One is the Poplar Bluff Severe Weather Response Team, a group of storm spotters trained by the National Weather Service to help identify different storm systems and cloud types. When it may not be safe or feasible to dispatch people to a particular area, that’s when the second tool comes in handy — weather cameras.
The EMA’s recent focus has been integrating its weather tracking with a nationwide weather warning app, RadarOmega. The weather cameras are particularly useful in Butler County, which is located at the westernmost edge of the Paducah, Kentucky NWS radar system. Because of the conical shape of the radar’s wave, storms closer to the ground near the edge of radar range are harder to accurately detect. Ozark Border helped ring in the new year by placing five of the weather cameras for the EMA, creating another tool in the county’s storm preparedness kit.
“We can’t stop a tornado from coming in and creating damage, but we can limit the damage to human life by having ample warnings,” Robbie says. “With cameras, sirens and volunteers we can alert people and get them to safety.”
Ozark Border also has a strong presence in its local school district, whether it’s helping to light the way back to night football games for the Doniphan Dons after a 49-year absence, or performing safety demonstrations for students. When COVID prevented the in-school demos from taking place, David said Ozark Border Electric’s board of directors saw an opportunity to engage more of the community in the electric safety conversation.
“It got us thinking outside that box about what areas are most affected,” David adds. “Farming is big here, and we have a lot of first responders. We probably have 50 or more volunteer fire departments within our service area, so it seemed like a natural transition.”
The first of the new electric safety programs held in May targeted volunteer firefighters teaching them what to look for and how to react in emergency situations where they may encounter electric equipment. The program also teaches first responders what to do when energized lines are involved, how to steer clear of them and contact the co-op for assistance. David says plans call for expanding the program to focus on agriculture and farming-related electrical safety as well as a standard safety demonstration for adults that can be offered on a regular basis to the public.
“These are our members out here doing this work, so any time we can help them and have a direct impact on their safety out there, it’s important for us to do that,” David says. “It’s all about safety and community involvement for us.”
For more information about Ozark Border Electric Cooperative, visit www.ozarkborder.org. For more information about Butler County EMA, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ButlerCountyEMA.