(ATLANTA – August 27, 2015) When a tornado ripped through downtown Atlanta on March 14, 2008 leaving a swath of destruction, including considerable damage to the Georgia World Congress Center, Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park, it served as a galvanizing event for weather-related emergency management preparation.
Seven years later, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority (GWCCA) has stepped up its severe weather preparedness game under a new Public Safety Director/Chief of Police, earning a new seal of approval from the National Weather Service (NWS).
In a ceremony held today at the Georgia World Congress Center’s C101 Auditorium, the NWS officially presented the GWCCA and its properties with StormReady® Supporter certification, the first such designation for a convention center-and-sports-entertainment complex in the country.
There are sports venues – including eight Major League Baseball stadiums, two NFL stadiums (Buffalo Bills’ Ralph Wilson Stadium and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, shared by the N.Y. Giants and N.Y. Jets) – indoor arenas and civic centers on the StormReady® Supporter list according to NWS data, but not a combined facility such as the GWCCA’s campus, which includes the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and 3.9 million-square-foot GWCC convention and expo center.
“So I think it is correct to say that the Georgia World Congress Center Authority is the first convention center and sports-entertainment complex in the nation to receive StormReady® Supporter recognition,” said Kent Frantz, Senior Service Hydrologist at the Weather Forecast Office in Peachtree City and the Georgia StormReady® Coordinator, who presented the award.
The designation recognizes local governments, universities, schools, businesses, retail centers, museums, venues and public facilities for reaching a high level of severe weather preparedness.
“The National Weather Service recognized the Georgia World Congress Center Authority as a StormReady® Supporter for enhancing public safety by promoting the principles and guidelines of StormReady®, a hazardous weather and safety awareness program,” according to a press release issued by the agency.
For GWCCA Public Safety Director/Chief of Police John Bauer, the StormReady® certification signifies a change in culture where emergency preparedness plays an ever-increasing role in law enforcement, public safety and facility management.
“We’re getting more prepared,” he said. “We’re open for improvement and we want to continue to challenge ourselves to be better.”
To achieve StormReady® status, the GWCCA had to meet the following criteria which were checked by an onsite audit by NWS staff:
“It doesn’t mean you are storm-proof; rather how and what you do when severe storms are occurring” said Frantz.
What it does mean is that GWCCA provides staff and management with safety and communication skills paramount to saving lives and property in the event of a severe storm – and being a designated supporter means the organization promotes and follows the guidelines of the StormReady® program.
“It’s about how you receive the warnings,” said Frantz. “It’s action based on our warnings. What do you do with it? That’s were training comes in to play.”
Bauer, who became the GWCCA’s Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety in December 2014, previously served as Chief of Police at Marietta’s Southern Polytechnic State University, a StormReady® partner since 2011.
After taking the helm at GWCCA, he immediately began looking for ways to implement his 90-day plan for improvement and earmarked the StormReady program because he was already familiar with the ins and outs of it.
“I’d been through the process before with the insight how to do it,” he said. “I want to do as much as I possibly can to improve the level of safety here.”
Senior Service Hydrologist at the Weather Forecast Center Kent Frantz and GWCCA Directory of Public Safety John Bauer
Sr. Staff Writer