FOLEY -- This week in our "Behind the Scenes" series on WJON, we help you stay safe during severe weather at the Benton County Emergency Management Center.

It doesn't take long for the skies to turn scary and that's when Jim McDermott and the Benton County Emergency Management Center spring into action.

"The National Weather Service is the first line of defense for us and they will notify us up to several days ahead of time of a severe weather system that's going to be moving into our area," says McDermott.

He says once a watch is issued by the National Weather Service, they will activate Skywarn and about 120 weather spotters move out across the county.

"We have one control area where all the phone calls and information goes into, so we know where these spotters are and who is out there spotting," says McDermott.

The National Weather Service takes the information from the spotters and their own radar, and if a warning is issued an alert to the affected area is sent.

"We have a list of all the phone numbers in the county on our computer that we click on. If we use a map we pinpoint the exact location the storm will affect and either send it immediately or schedule it for a later date," says McDermott.

It can take about 5-10 minutes for the computer to call 5,000 people. McDermott says if they do send out an alert it's only when the situation calls for it.

"So when we send out a warning we want to make sure there is a good reason for it to go out and not cry wolf," says McDermott.

However changes in storm patterns can sometimes make the alert seem unnecessary as the storm changes direction or disappears.

"And then people will be wondering why did they send the warning out? Well if we waited until the storm was on top of you it might have been too late," says McDermott.

So the next time severe weather strikes spend a little extra time looking outside so you can stay safe before the warning is issued.

Benton County Emergency Management Director Jim McDermott explains what happens when severe weather strikes. (Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON News)