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Storm Ready Comes to the Classroom
by Megan Bolter* and Tom Behler**

The initiative to acquire National Weather Service (NWS) "StormReady" certification for Ferris State University (FSU) had its roots in an upper-level sociology class at the university entitled "The Sociology of Disasters and Emergency Preparedness". The class was taught by Dr. Tom Behler, in the spring 2009 semester. In the class, an effort was made to take a sociological approach to a variety of emergency and disaster situations, and to examine patterns of both public and private response to those situations. Disaster or emergency situations that were studied included terrorism (both domestic and international), school/campus violence, natural/geological hazards (e.g. earthquakes, avalanches, volcanoes and tsunamis), and, of course, weather-related disasters.

Dr. Behler first learned of the NWS StormReady initiative from his attendance at the Weather And Society * Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) summer workshop in Boulder , Colo. , in August 2008. After further investigating the details of StormReady certification, Dr. Behler felt that pursuing this recognition for Ferris State University would be beneficial on several levels. In the short term, pursuing this distinction would serve as an interesting project for a willing group of students, who needed to complete a required group project for a significant part of their course grade. But pursuing the StormReady certification also had additional broader benefits. It would provide Ferris State University with an important badge of honor, by making it one of only four universities in the state of Michigan—and one of only 51 universities nationwide—to achieve this recognition (Franklin, Communities ). It would be an important step toward further protecting life and property on the university campus, and would further solidify an already productive working relationship between Ferris, and the Grand Rapids , Mich. , Weather Forecast Office (WFO) staff. Finally, it would enhance meaningful linkages between Grand Rapids NWS staff, and emergency management officials in both the city of Big Rapids and Mecosta county (where Ferris is located).

The stage was set for the StormReady certification class project when Dr. Behler first shared the details of the assignment with the students and indicated that he'd like to see one of the groups take on his "pet project" aimed at assessing Ferris State 's eligibility for becoming a StormReady university. A group of four students, led by the lead author, quickly rose to the challenge. With Dr. Behler's assistance, several organizational meetings were held with relevant individuals who could assist with the project. These individuals included three key Ferris State University staff members: the assistant director of emergency management, the university's safety coordinator, and a geography professor who teaches the "Weather and Climate" course). The meetings also included the warning coordination ,meteorologist (WCM) from the Grand Rapids NWS office.

The group's first task was to determine how many of the StormReady certification guidelines the University already had fulfilled and what additional guidelines Ferris might have to meet in order to satisfy all of the certification requirements. Based on an initial examination, the group was pleasantly surprised to discover that FSU already had met all of the certification guidelines in at least one of the suggested ways and had even exceeded those guidelines in a number of instances. More specifically, the StormReady application listed six major guidelines, each of which contained associated criteria that had to be met according to population size. In light of Ferris State 's population size of approximately 13,500 during the typical academic year, the group made the following determinations regarding how the University was meeting the various guidelines and their associated criteria:

1. Communication—Must have a twenty-four hour warning point and an emergency operations center (EOC). Ferris State was found to have both, in that it has a twenty four hour warning point at its dispatch center, and its own Emergency Operations Center (EOC), located in the University's public safety building. Ferris also has an agreement with the city of Big Rapids to use the city EOC if its EOC is disabled in some way.

2. NWS information reception—Must have four different ways to receive NWS weather warnings . Ferris State was found to have five: NOAA weather radios at various campus locations, amateur radio capability in its EOC, televisions throughout campus to receive important weather information, radios to receive weather bulletins from local commercial broadcast stations, and both hard-wired and wireless internet throughout campus.

3. Hydrometeorological Monitoring—Must have two ways of monitoring local weather conditions. Ferris was found to have five: anemometer, rain gauge, a functioning weather station linked to the internet, access to radar via the internet, and a television radar source.

4. Local warning dissemination—Must have two ways to do this, in addition to NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) radio receivers in public facilities. In addition to NWR receivers, Ferris was found to have an outdoor warning siren system, a local alert broadcast system, a cable television override, an established and tested automated telephone calling tree involving all critical facilities, a coordinated area-wide public safety radio network, and the ability to broadcast selected messages to targeted areas of campus.

5. Community preparedness—Must train spotters and dispatchers biannually, and must conduct at least two annual weather safety talks for anyone interested. Ferris conducts an average of five different safety talks each year, and has hosted or co-hosted Skywarn training for their dispatchers and weather spotters for at least the last three years.

6. Administrative—Must have a formal Hazardous Weather Operation Plan; make biannual visits by the emergency manager or his/her designee to the nearest NWS office; and must arrange for an annual visit by an NWS official. Ferris was found to comply with all three of these requirements. (Franklin, How To )

Once the student group determined that Ferris State had met and/or exceeded the six certification guidelines, their next task was to arrange an NWS site visit, in order to verify that the guidelines actually had been fulfilled via the means described. This site visit was arranged and conducted in September of 2009 by Jamie Bielinski (WCM of the Grand Rapids WFO), and Nathan Jeruzal, (forecaster from that same office). The visit went extremely well, and the capabilities noted above were readily verified. The University's capabilities were then re-evaluated by a panel of National Weather Service professionals and local emergency managers, and ultimately were approved for the StormReady certification.

The importance of being "storm ready", and the significance of this certification have been well documented. For example, one can point to Van Wert County, Ohio. In order to receive its StormReady certification the county had to install a system of warning alerts in public places including the local movie theater. Later that same year, during a tornado outbreak the theater manager and employees, when warned of the impending tornado, were able to get the 50 customers in attendance to safer locations within the theater, such as interior hallways and bathrooms. "Minutes later a tornado tore off the building's roof and tossed cars into the screen and front seats where minutes earlier kids and parents had been watching ' The Santa Clause 2' movie. Amazingly, there were no fatalities in the theater, despite the fact that 35 fatalities had been documented from the same tornado outbreak elsewhere." ( Franklin , 2009) . StormReady entities benefit from the StormReady certification in still other ways. Organizations, cities, or towns that are StormReady certified are more likely to receive federal grants and monies for other related projects. They are better able to show that the community's safety is at the forefront of community management's efforts. "Storm Ready communities are better prepared to save lives from the onslaught of severe weather through advanced planning, education and awareness. No community is storm proof, but StormReady can help communities save lives." (Franklin, StormReady) .

The acquisition of the StormReady Certification clearly benefitted Ferris State University itself. To quote Michael McKay, Ferris's Safety Coordinator in an e-mail to Dr. Behler: "I really think the congratulations goes to you and your students. The project developed and documented by the students in your Sociology of Disasters course here at Ferris was the key to obtaining this recognition. This is a great example of how academic programs can contribute to the overall safety of the University by becoming involved and engaged. Likely, without your students pursuing this certification, I would not have been able to devote the time to documenting and submitting the application materials. Thank you and congratulations for helping to make Ferris State University a StormReady University." (E-mail Correspondence, October 2009)

Finally, assisting Ferris State University to become StormReady certified was personally beneficial to the participants in the group project, as they actually saw the certification process unfold. To quote Megan Bolter, the lead author of this article: "In less than a month we discovered that Ferris already had met all of the requirements, and that fact just had to be documented. Our group project actually had turned into sending in an application to the NWS for StormReady. I even had the fortune to attend the site visit by the NWS officials as well as the certification ceremony. It was amazing to see the different members of the Ferris community working together to better the community.... I am truly proud to say I am a student here at Ferris State University , and that I was allowed to follow this project through to the very end. I am thrilled to have worked with such committed Ferris faculty, Ferris staff members, and NWS officials who exemplified a commitment to answering the plea made by Ferris State 's founder, Woodbridge Ferris". "My plea in Michigan- and it will be my plea to the last breath I draw, and the last word I speak- is education for all children, all men, and all women of Michigan, all the people in all our states all the time." ( Woodbridge Nathan Ferris Resource Site) . In short, Ferris State University provided an excellent example of faculty and staff working with the students to further their education. The NWS and their StormReady program also answered this Woodbridge Ferris's plea by furthering the surrounding community's education regarding ways to protect itself from weather related disasters. Is this not the sort of thing that we all want to see happen within the University setting, and its surrounding environment?

*Megan Bolter ( is a student at Ferris State University .

**Dr. Tom Behler ( is a visiting scientist with the Societal Impacts Program (SIP) at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).


Franklin, D. 2010 Communities . National Weather Service StormReady.

Franklin , D. February 18, 2010. How To Become StormReady. National Weather Service StormReady.

Franklin , D. 2009 "StormReady" Label Proves Correct for Ohio County in Recent Tornado Outbreak. National Weather Service StormReady.

Franklin , D. April 22, 2010 . Storm Ready. National Weather Service StormReady.

McKay, Michael, E-mail Correspondence, October, 2009.

Woodbridge Nathan Ferris Resource Site. (n.d.). Retrieved March 19, 2010, from Ferris State University :


I would like to thank my co-author, Dr. Behler, for his commitment and dedication to this project, without which this would not have been possible. I would like to thank Tricia Walding-Smith (assistant director of emergency management), Michael McKay (safety coordinator, certified safety and health manager), Jennifer Johnson (assistant professor of geography), and Jamie Bielinski (WCM of the Grand Rapids WFO) for all of their help and their commitment to this project. Finally I would like to thank my group members Monica Dean, Tyler Fredrick, and Matt Smith for all of their work on this project.

Figure Information

Figure 1: Ferris State was honored as StormReady on November 18, 2009, in a formal recognition ceremony. (Photo by Richard Gillespie)

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