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Emergency Management is Planning to Save Your Life


Huntsville Madison County, Alabama
Civil Defense - Emergency Management
Agency History



In 1950, the federal government passed the Civil Defense Act creating the Federal Civil Defense Agency. The key reason for the establishment of civil defense was the preparation for a possible attack on our country.

The State of Alabama, in 1955, passed an act, which created the Alabama Department of Civil Defense. Local offices were organized in the period that followed.



City of Huntsville Ordinance 62-212 dated October 25th, 1962 and Madison County Commission Resolution dated November 9th, 1962 created the Huntsville-Madison County Civil Defense Board. The purpose of this board was to oversee the Huntsville-Madison County Civil Defense Agency. The City of Huntsville ordinance was signed by Council President Pro-Tem Gordon Loftin and Mayor R.B. Searcy. Board Members were: M.L. Weil, Jr., City of Huntsville; L.W. Brock, Madison County; J.O. Johnson, City of Huntsville; C.W. Ennis, Madison County; J.M. Balch, joint city-county appointment.

Board minutes from the first board meeting held on October 29th, 1962 mentioned a "…pick up of interest the past week because of threats accompanying the Cuban Crisis." The Cold War era was well underway and the entire nation was preparing for nuclear disaster. Residents were reminded to "duck and cover" among other things if they were to see the bright flash of light from a nuclear explosion. The Fallout Shelter program was getting underway. A Civil Defense Police Unit was established in Huntsville as well as a Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service Unit (RACES), which was comprised of amateur radio volunteers and is still in existence today. The Civil Defense office was considering a location for new office space and settled on space in the new City Hall building, which was to be completed in 1964.

In April of 1963, the Civil Defense mission statement was approved and sent to city and county leaders. The mission was "To protect life and property by preparing for and carrying out emergency functions to prevent, minimize, repair and recover from injury and damage resulting from effects of war, natural disasters and subversive activities." The Board also began studying the needs for an outdoor warning siren system in Madison County.

The first Civil Defense Director serving under the Board was Mr. Ransom Crawford of Decatur. Mr. Crawford resigned in November 1962 because he was not able to move his residence to Huntsville. On January 10, 1963, the Huntsville City Council formally approved the appointment of retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Harris T. Mitchell as Civil Defense Director at a salary of $6,000 per year. Later Directors include: Mr. T.J. Wiseman, Ms. Shirley Cyphers, Mr. Brett Garrison, Mr. John "Rusty" Russell, and Mr. Jeffrey Birdwell, who serves as the present-day Director.




In the 1970's, the primary role of Civil Defense began to shift toward natural and man-made disasters rather than nuclear war. Hazardous materials became a concern as more research was done as to the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment.

In the early 1970's Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant was built in neighboring Limestone County. Under the Radiological Emergency Response Plan, Madison County was designated as a host location for evacuees should an evacuation be required from the area surrounding Browns Ferry. This includes monitoring evacuees and their vehicles for possible radioactive contamination before they are sent to designated shelters.

In 1979, the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency was merged with other federal offices creating the Federal Emergency Management Agency.




In 1984,to reflect the changes within the federal government, city and county governments approved the name change of the Agency to the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

The Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency is the repository for all SARA Title III information reported by businesses and industries in the Huntsville-Madison County area. Businesses or industries that store, manufacture, or transport hazardous substances and materials fall under the reporting requirements of SARA Title III (Public Law 99-499), also known as the Emergency Planning and Community Right To Know Act (EPRCA) which was enacted in 1986. The Environmental Protection Agency is the enforcement arm for this legislation, and as such, has the authority to impose fines and penalties upon businesses and industries for non-compliance.



In 1995, a comprehensive study was done to determine Huntsville and Madison County's need for an effective outdoor warning siren system. To date, there are over 115 siren sites that can be used to warn citizens of imminent disasters. We have one of the best outdoor warning siren coverage rates in the country.

The Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) is a joint Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Army (DA) program to meet Public Law 99-145, a Congressional mandate which requires the destruction of stockpiled chemical agents and munitions while providing for the maximum protection of the personnel that are involved in the disposal process, the general public, and the environment. In the mid 1990's the Department of Army began construction on a chemical weapons incinerator facility at the Anniston Army Depot. The Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency is a participant in the Anniston plan by serving as a host county for evacuees from the Anniston area should an accident occur at the plant.


21st Century

The year 2001 brought to light a new focus for the nation. That focus was terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Huntsville is one of the nation's largest 120 cities that were selected to receive training under the Nunn, Lugar, Dominici Weapons of Mass Destruction Program. Area police, fire, medical, emergency management, and various other government officials are undergoing training to respond to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction incidents in an effort to improve our readiness.

The year 2003 saw the implementation of a new citizen preparedness program here in Madison County. CERT, or the Community Emergency Response Team program, a 20 hour FEMA course designed to teach the average citizen ways that they can help themselves and their neighbors during disaster, proved to be welcomed by the public. In the first 4 years, nearly 400 people had attended the classes. The students in the course were given instruction on disaster planning, fire & hazardous materials safety, disaster medical operations, light search & rescue, team organization, disaster psychology, and terrorism awareness. Students were encouraged to form neighborhood, church/civic, and workplace groups so that trained persons would be available to assist immediately if a disaster occurred at their location. CERT is still being taught today.

The Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency has coordinated response and recovery to many disasters such as floods, winter storms, the major tornadoes of 1968,1973, 1974, 1989, and 1995, as well as many other smaller events. The Agency has also been involved in mitigation measures such as flood mitigation programs to help reduce the effects of future disasters. The Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency will continue to focus on an All Hazards approach to Emergency Management, which involves mitigating the effects of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from disasters.

View our photos from the past section.