Smith County sees uptick in emergency management due to pandemic, severe weather, fires

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 11:11 PM CDT
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SMITH COUNTY, Texas (KLTV) - Between the pandemic, winter storm, and other emergencies, the Smith County Fire Marshal and Emergency Operations Center has stayed busy this last year.

County officials have been meeting with the City of Tyler for more than a year to deal with issues regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. They have had 73 in-person EOC meetings and 327 virtual meetings. Fire Marshal Jay Brooks says things have changed dramatically.

“In the first several months especially it was a do-for-yourself kind of event. I mean there was no help from outside. The state couldn’t provide us anything and so we were scrambling trying to figure out how we were going to take care of ourselves,” Brooks said.

Along with the pandemic Smith County had to deal with the winter storm and Brooks credits lots of success to the community stepping up.

“That was a one hundred year storm and we just weren’t prepared for it,” he said. “So we have to mitigate those circumstances when they occur. So we were trying to make sure we had warming centers, we had shelters, we had food.”

Brooks said they have also seen a 100 percent increase in structure fires this year, compared to January to April of last year. Some of the increase comes from the winter storm and people using heaters. Others, “We’re seeing a lot of arson related fires that are related to drug deals gone bad, whether methamphetamine or heroin, and so that’s something that is new to us in the last year or two,” Brooks said. “We’re trying to figure out why that’s occurring and we’re trying to put a stop to it.”

Brooks says arson fires are not something people can get away with. Their office performs in-depth investigations and talks with many people during the process.

“They think of them as victimless because it’s a property crime, but it’s not. This causes an increase in insurance rates, it’s putting people out of homes, it’s taking away their possessions, it’s a big deal to us, and so we don’t just rest easy when we get one of those,” Brooks said.

With tornado season starting up Brooks said they are meeting with local entities and the weather service to pre-plan so they are ready if an event does occur. The county has also implemented a new emergency alert system called RAVE and Brooks encourages citizens to sign up for it through phone calls, texts, and emails.

“It does two things. Number one, it allows for instant weather alerts, so they can sign up for tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings and things like that. They can get them by phone call, by text, or by email,” Brooks said. “But it also does a secondary thing for us and that is, if we have a major disaster in Smith County and I need to, or the judge needs to get information out really quickly to the citizens, we can actually blast to everybody that’s registered that information.”

Brooks has a final message for people and that is to check your smoke detectors and be sure they are working.

“We’ve also lost six individuals this year due to fires. Four in one particular fire, we lost two individuals in two separate other fires,” he said. “Smoke detectors do in fact save lives. This is statistically proven over time it’s very, very important. So we’re partnered with the Red Cross, all of Smith County, the two ESDs, City of Tyler, we’re all partnered with Red Cross, we can get smoke detectors if people have a need.”

If you or someone you know needs a smoke detector you can reach out to the county or Red Cross. To register for the “RAVE” program you can click here.

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