The Commerce Journal

February 23, 2013

Hill: ‘Emergency management starts with the individual’

By Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — Editor’s note: this is part two in a three part series on the Commerce Emergency Operations Center.

Sixty-five people died last year in tornado or other severe weather-related emergencies in Texas.

The Commerce Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is able to warn citizens before an emergency occurs, keeping many citizens from becoming another statistic.

Including an outdoor warning system, the EOC has an IRIS phone notification system, cable override system and Facebook and Twitter accounts to keep citizens up to date on any emergency in Commerce and Hunt County.

But, according to Richard Hill, director of Homeland Security for Hunt County, emergency preparedness begins at home.

“Emergency management starts with the individual,” he said, adding that individuals and families should begin by asking themselves “Do we have flashlights, a radio, water, food?”

Having a family management plan and knowing what to do in the case of a weather emergency is key to keeping safe, Chris Vaughan, emergency management coordinator for Commerce, said.

Vaughan and Josh Cato, assistant emergency management coordinator, help run the IRIS alert system, which sends text or voice alerts up to three different phone numbers and two different email addresses an individual may have.

More than 3,000 people have signed up for the system so far.

“We use it for City Hall closings or, if there’s something that we need to inform everyone in Commerce about, we use that system,” he said. “We can get a message out to everyone in five minutes.”

Even with IRIS and the other alert systems the city has, Vaughan echoed Hill’s sentiment about individual preparedness.

“Always be aware of your surroundings, so that if something does happen, you have an idea of what to do,” he said.

The Red Cross and National Weather Service have family and weather related emergency plans. Vaughan said every family should read those to be prepared for an emergency.

Currently, Cato is working on a website where any citizen can update their information to ensure they will be warned by the IRIS alert system in an emergency.

To register for the IRIS alert system, visit