A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
Main Content

First County-wide PrepareAthon! in North Carolina Rallies Community

May 2016

Buncombe County PrepareAthon! for Tornado Safety LogoLocated in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina, Buncombe County provides a home to nearly 250,000 residents. Its county seat, the City of Asheville, is a popular tourist destination and has a strong business community including the corporate headquarters of Ingles Markets Inc. To help residents and local businesses get better prepared for tornadoes before they strike and save lives, the county participated in America’s PrepareAthon! with exercises and discussions on tornado safety.

On March 9, 2016, Buncombe County Emergency Management and the City of Asheville launched Buncombe County’s PrepareAthon! with a community-wide tornado drill.

Students lined up along hallway in protective position for tornado drill
Students at Oakley Elementary School in Asheville, NC,
participated in the statewide tornado drill as part of Buncombe
County's PrepareAthon! Location determined to be best
available refuge areas by Buncombe County Emergency
Management Agency’s Director based on site surveys.
Jerry Vehaun, director of Emergency Services in Buncombe County, and other volunteers encouraged residents to sign up for Nixle, their community emergency communication system that notifies subscribers of threats via text, voicemail, email, and social media. Buncombe County used this event to test the “reverse 911” component of Nixle by sending a test message out to all of the telephone listings in the county’s 911 database.

On the day of the drill, nearly 20,000 students and workers from Buncombe County and the City of Asheville schools and government offices, the Biltmore Group, Ingles Markets, and Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College practiced taking cover for a tornado.


"We take great pride in being the
first county in North Carolina to take
part in America's PrepareAthon!
Severe weather can cause major
damage to our residents' homes and
businesses, and we believe that an
informed and engaged community is
a strong community."

- Jerry Vehaun, director of Emergency
Services in Buncombe County

The National Weather Service simulated a tornado warning using its weekly test over NOAA Weather Radios. Students and staff at Buncombe County and City of Asheville schools immediately moved to their designated safe areas until school officials announced the all-clear. Biltmore Estate, Ingles Markets, and City of Asheville employees also practiced their sheltering procedures, moving to designated safe areas at their workplaces.
“It’s important to remember that tornadoes can happen anytime, and the PrepareAthon! gave us a chance practice what we would do while at work,” said Kelley Klope, Public Information Officer for the Asheville Fire Department. “It was eye-opening, and now we are ready to take action when the next tornado comes through our county.”
To learn more about emergency preparedness in North Carolina, visit ReadyNC.