St. Joseph County in need of storm spotters, amateur radio operators

Did you know there are people across St. Joseph County who volunteer their time to help keep us all safer in the event of severe weather or disasters? Well, there are, and it turns out we need more of them.

"We're look at a lot of need...our spotters are way down," says Dave Kepple, the Chief Radio Officer for the St. Joseph County EMA.

He's referring to National Weather Service storm spotters and certified amateur radio operators (hams) in St. Joseph County. He, alongside the other volunteers in the county, play a key role in keeping the community safe during severe weather. Whenever severe weather is possible or disasters strike, the amateur radio operators and storm spotters across the county are "activated."

"It's not particularly every year, but every few years we get some major tornadoes going through this part of the country," Kepple told ABC 57 News when asked why more spotters are even needed.

Obviously we don't see disasters or major severe weather events every year, but think about this for a second:

Between the years 1950 and 2017, a total of 27 tornadoes struck St. Joseph County. They are responsible for killing 48 people and injuring 465 others.

"I had my house destroyed one time, I had my airplane destroyed another time, and other times we'd have to go to help somebody else rebuild their house because there'd be a tornado," says Kepple.

With the lack of people showing interest in becoming a certified amateur radio operator or storm spotter (or both), Kepple has organized a free, open-to-the-public event set to take place in South Bend next Monday. Here are the details on it:

When: Monday, April 15th, at 6 p.m.

Where: the St. Joseph County Public Library in downtown South Bend

Who: anyone interested in learning about becoming an official storm spotter or amateur radio operator for St. Joseph County

"We'll be giving information on how to get certified as a storm spotter. We'll give information on how to get certified as a radio amateur. In fact, we're even going to give a drawing, where if your name comes up, we'll pay for your test and we'll give you a radio." 

It's important to note that simply attending this event will not make you an official radio amateur or storm spotter. It will shine a light on what you need to do if you're willing to become certified, though. It's also important to keep in mind that these spotters and radio operator positions are entirely voluntary, not paid. If that sways you away from wanting to partake, Kepple has this to say:

"Because [of] the community. You live here, your family, your friends are going to be affected by it. And you can be part of the safety net that we have that gives them warning, that gives them a chance. You may be the one that spots the tornado, gets the word out. The people hear the word from the TV, they go down and get in their safe spot -- their shelter -- and they live through the tornado rather than being a casualty." 

Kepple says that knowing he is potentially saving lives and property makes the time spent in any given year well worthwhile. 

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