Alabama EMA directors say Safer Places Bill will help keep more people safe during severe weather

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BIRMINGHAM Ala. (WIAT) — EMA directors across Alabama say the Safer Place bill will provide more opportunities to keep people safe statewide during severe weather.

The bill mandates counties designate safe places for people to go to in a severe weather emergency if they can’t make it to a storm shelter. The bill was supposed to be in effect by the end of the year, but state EMA’s say they are still awaiting guidance from the state on establishing safer places.

Melissa Sizemore of the Jefferson County EMA said the bill is important, especially in rural areas throughout the county with no nearby storm shelters. As soon as Jefferson County receives the guidance for establishing safer places, the county plans to work with cities to make a map for places people can seek shelter.

“For residents across the county to be able to access safer locations to shelter. They are not necessarily FEMA rated tornado shelters that are able to withstand a EF 5 tornado or winds in excess of 200 MPH. But they are safer locations let’s say in terms of a mobile home,” Sizemore said.

Sizemore recommends people stay aware of weather patterns throughout the week and take precautionary measures, including having multiple ways to receive warnings. The Everbridge System is Jefferson County’s recommended weather alert.

Etowah County EMA Director Deborah Gaither said a lot of churches or community centers groups have wanted to be a safe place for the community in severe weather. She said that for many of them, liability was a concern and she’s hopeful the bill will change that. Gaither said that within Etowah County, the goal is to have a shelter located within 15 to 20 minutes of each home. Right now, they aren’t able to offer that and she is thankful for the changes to come, especially for the northwest parts of the county.

“So I think this would open the door for some of our maybe church partners to come on board and say we can offer a safer place to those who live in a mobile home or those who live in housing.  This is if they don’t feel they would be able to withstand tornado winds,” Gaither said.

In 2022, Alabama will begin its tax credit program for residents that can be given up to $3,000 for building a storm shelter. The Etowah County EMA has these forms available for anyone interested in building one on their property.

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