MERRILLVILLE, Ind. — Ten thousand people had gathered to watch fireworks in Hebron when a thunderstorm approached from the west.

Paul Petrie, deputy director Lake County Homeland Security & Emergency Management Agency, and Ray Chambers, director of the Newton County Emergency Management, began crunching the numbers of how long they had to evacuate everyone safely.

The exercise was part of a training session last week held by the National Weather Service for Chicago at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso for emergency leaders and responders in Northwest Indiana.

“You’ve got to be paying attention,” Mike Bardou, meteorologist, said.

Bardou said thunderstorms are probably the biggest issue area leaders and first responders have to face with planning outdoor events.

“If you’re close enough to hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck by lightning,” Bardou said.

With the training, Chambers said he thinks of when high winds from an approaching thunderstorm caused a stage to collapse in 2011 during a concert at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis, killing seven and injuring 58 people.

“If we have an outdoor event, it can be critical that we get information in advance enough to make sure everyone will stay safe,” Petrie said.

Recent flooding in Northwest Indiana, which caused evacuations along the Kankakee River and in Lake Station, was also on the minds of people at the exercise Thursday.

“We’ve been very busy the last week or so with all the flooding,” Stephen McKown, Hobart Fire Department battalion chief, said.

While the majority of McKown’s job is focused on fire prevention, he said firefighters “get called to everything,” so it’s good to learn techniques to be better prepared, especially during summer storm seasons.

“We’ve also experienced severe weather during some of our town events in Chesterton,” John Jarka, chief of the town’s fire department, said.

Over the summer, there are fireworks on the lakefront, the Taste of Duneland and Party in the Park, he said. Jarka wanted to learn tips to help people stay safe outdoors at these events, he said.

In addition to safety, monitoring weather can also help with the “financial stability of these events,” Chambers said. By tracking what was approaching the area, organizers for Leon’s Triathlon in Hammond were able to adjust their schedule events in the past, keeping the triathlon going so people would return in the future, according to Chambers.

Watching the weather is a daily part of Lawrence Taylor’s job as the deputy director of public works in Gary, he said.

“It’s definitely ’round the clock,” he said.

Snow has been the focus right now, but the weather can be “unpredictable,” so they have to be prepared at all hours, he said.

“Things don’t happen when you’re at work. They always happen when you’re in bed, so I’m looking at the weather two in the morning, three in the morning, four in the morning because it could change,” Taylor said.

Bardou and his fellow meteorologists walked the group of about 30 people Thursday through tools they can used from the weather service and how they can get in touch with them in real-time emergencies.

“With severe weather, it can happen like that,” Charles Mott, meteorologist, said as he snapped his fingers.

Mott and Bardou stressed that each event needs someone to focus on monitoring the weather, even days ahead of time, to adjust accordingly.

“You basically have to pay attention all the time,” Mott said.

Source: (Merrillville) Post-Tribune,

Information from: Post-Tribune,

This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the (Merrillville) Post-Tribune.

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