Urban Area Perspective: Tuscaloosa

By Matthew Harwood

David Hartin is the director of the Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency. He started his service to the community in 1974 as a volunteer with the Tuscaloosa County Civil Defense Department and was appointed to the Tuscaloosa Police Department in January 1976. As a sergeant, he was assigned to be the liaison between the police department and emergency management. Hartin graduated from the University of Alabama in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in commerce and business administration, after which he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve. During his 30 years of service in the Army Reserve, he held six commands and several staff assignments. His commands included a transportation truck company, a terminal battalion, and a deployment support brigade. Hartin retired in June 2003 as a colonel. His military awards include the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal. Hartin also holds a master of criminal justice degree from the University of Alabama. He is certified by the Alabama Association of Emergency Managers as an Advanced Level Emergency Manager and by Alabama EMA as a Certified Local Emergency Manager.

April’s tornados were devastating. Can you put them in context?

I’m a life-long resident of Tuscaloosa County, and since the early 1970s, I have been involved with most of the significant tornado events that have come through my county. When you look at the time period between April 25 and April 28 throughout the South, we had a tremendous number of tornados and storm damage. Currently, it ranks as the fifth worst tornado outbreak in U.S. history. On April 27, Alabama had 62 confirmed tornados. Four of those impacted Tuscaloosa County with two being classified EF-4 and two EF-3.

Over the years, we have experienced damage to homes and commercial sites, but none compare to what happened on April 27. I’ve heard some people compare the destruction caused by one of the April 27 EF-4 tornados to a war zone. It was rated as a high-end EF-4 with a damage path length of 80.68 miles and a maximum width of 1.5 miles. Over 7,000 structures were affected. Two thousand plus were destroyed. Eighteen hundred had moderate damage, and 3,100 had light damage. I recently talked to a resident whose home was damaged in the tornado. She told me that she had the only tree left in their neighborhood. Indeed, there are areas that you can see for miles because the trees that used to limit your vision are no longer there.

Considering your long career in emergency management, what really surprised you about the tornados?

Tuscaloosa had two separate tornado events on April 27. We had the two EF-3s that caused damage in the county during the early morning hours. Had it stopped there, it would have been a significant weather day. Then early in the afternoon, we were hit with the two EF-4s. The Tuscaloosa County Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Operations Center was destroyed. If that was not bad enough, our community lost our Salvation Army facility, which is one of our primary shelters for the homeless. As the tornado tracked through our city, we also lost the West Alabama Red Cross chapter facility. Our operation and two critical nongovernmental organizations that are there with resources to help after the storm were some of the first victims of the afternoon storm.

(To continue reading "Urban Area Perspective: Tuscaloosa," from our February 2012 issue, please click here)



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