Putnam County EMA Director Tyler Smith has received the state’s highest honor for leadership to the response of the 2020 March tornado.
EMA of Tennessee and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency presented Smith the Bill Worth Award Tuesday at the Statewide emergency manager’s conference in Franklin.
“It really shocked me,” Smith said. “We were here since Monday for our statewide conference. Wasn’t expecting any type of award, but as they called my name and I went up to accept the award, it really was a shock to me.”
Smith played an instrumental role in establishing the emergency response operation center the morning of March 3rd. Smith said EMA worked out of the location for two weeks coordinating recovery efforts.
“Coordinating efforts for cleanup, rescue efforts and just trying to get everything back to normal as we could,” Smith said. “But of course, normal is not going to be the case. We are scarred from that tornado and still scarred. All of our emergency services across the state came in and even from other states came in and helped us in Putnam County, and the volunteers. We can’t say enough about the volunteers.”
Smith said the EF-4 tornado was the worst disaster to ever hit the county. Smith said he monitored the storm as it hit Nashville and spawned a tornado. Smith said then, the storm weakened but gained strength as it moved east.
“It had weakened at the time it came to Wilson County and into Smith County, but as it started to move into Western Putnam County, it started to strengthen once again,” Smith said. “We went from an EF-0 to an EF-4 within just a matter of two minutes. As it moved into Cookeville, it weakened due to another tornadic storm just south of Cookeville.”
Smith said EMA does yearly disaster training to prepare for situations like this. Smith said they never hope to use the tactics, but emergency crews were ready to act.
“Emergency Management is a resource agency for all the departments,” Smith said. “We coordinate the resources locally, and then, if those resources are depleted locally, then we have state resources and then again federal resources. All of these were involved from the federal level all the way down to the local, of course. It’s just something we do. It is part of our job to coordinate those resources to make sure they are here to get the job down.”
Nineteen people died from the tornado that hit the Cookeville, Baxter area. Smith said he will never forget that day, and the community response to rebuild.