Deadly tornado anniversary: Technology then vs. now

Deadly tornado anniversary: Technology then vs. now
Updated: Aug. 6, 2018 at 9:03 AM EDT
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PETERSBURG, VA (WWBT) - Twenty-five years after the deadly Tri-cities tornado, there are many technological advances to help keep residents safer in severe weather.

Those improvements aren't just weather forecast related, but also cellular - all of them give us a better forewarning of a potential natural disaster.

Colonial Heights Fire Chief Moore says the image of the gaping hole in the Walmart, now Sam's club is ingrained in his mind.

"A lot of folks needed a lot of help in a short amount of time," he remembered. "I was at ground zero back when the tornado struck back on August 6," he said.

He said there were hundreds of people aimlessly walking around the super store.

"Everyone had some type of severe injury all the way down to minor injuries," Moore said.

RELATED: Tornado was a 'reign of terror'

Moore says Tri-cities residents should feel safe-knowing emergency sirens are up, running and ready to alert the masses.

They've been operating since 2008.

"It's either a severe thunderstorm warning or tornado warning - they activate these to alert the public," Moore said.

He also says victims are now better distributed to area hospitals in part because of a more robust regional radio system.

"Police fire and public works were on all three different radios," he said. "You had to hold them up to your ear to try to communicate."

NBC12 meteorologist Andrew Freiden says weather technology has made major improvements, too.

"The National Weather Service has upgraded its Doppler. It does a better job of detecting tornadoes," Freiden said.

"That tornado then versus now would have been detected sooner," he said.

Everyone from Petersburg to Colonial Heights and the NBC12 weather team agrees: the biggest change is our phones.

Petersburg Police Chief Kenneth Miller says those phones can be life-saving and play a critical role as the city continues to build upon its disaster response plan each year.

"I didn't have a phone back then," he said. "[Now] I have a cell phone that's a computer."

Moore says social media wasn't even a thought in anyone's mind back in 1993.

Now, family and friends can mark themselves safe in time of an emergency and the NBC12 First Alert Weather app uses advanced weather technology to tell users when disaster could strike.

"You have a cell signal. You are within reach of the latest signal that's out there," Freiden said.

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