GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As storms rolled into West Michigan Wednesday morning, emergency managers went to work, making sure the public stayed as safe as possible.

The forecast had them worried. Conditions were ripe for thunderstorms to produce tornadoes, though none were ultimately reported.

“We haven’t really seen that probability of the chance of a tornado for quite some time now,” Kent County Emergency Management Director Matt Groesser said as he intently watched radar images on a laptop screen.

Just before 10 a.m., the National Weather Service began issuing severe thunderstorm warnings. In a conference room at the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, radios buzzed with reports from trained weather spotters.

“We are prepared. We are doing what we can to make sure we’re ready to go in case something bad does happen,” Groesser explained. “We’re not here to be in charge of what’s happening out in the field. This room is basically designed to support and assist the on-scene commander or commanders with that they need, especially if those resources are limited.”

Wednesday’s storms brought in a partial crew to monitor the situation. Major storm damage would have resulted in full activation of the Emergency Operations Center. The EOC has seats for all facets of government — police, fire and emergency medical services, obviously; but people like the county’s legal team also need to be there.

“Like the declaration of an emergency, for example. They are the ones that draft a potential declaration should we get to the point where that would be needed,” Groesser said.

It a team effort, and a large part of that team is made up of a dedicated group of volunteers. Dr. Richard Hodgson, who goes by “Doc,” is a semi-retired physician and member of the volunteer Emergency Services Team, which supports emergency management and first responders in everything from search and rescue to medical response to communications.

“You name it, if it has to do anything with emergency management, supporting the county, we can be involved at some level,” Hodgson said. “No one’s not qualified. One of the beauties of this is we can train you to do certain things.”

The Kent County Emergency Operations Center at the sheriff's office on April 5, 2023.
The Kent County Emergency Operations Center at the sheriff’s office on April 5, 2023.

On Wednesday morning, they were keeping a close eye on trouble spots on radar and looking for damage reports on social media The volunteer team also helps out with large-scale events, like River Bank Run, where members coordinate communications on the course.

“Some of our members are ham radio operators,” Hodgson said.

He said it’s a great way to give back to the community when that help is most needed.

“It gives you a sense of fulfillment to be able to help other people in a role that’s not compensated in any way other than (with a) thank you,” he said.

You can learn more about volunteering at the Kent County Emergency Services Team’s website.