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Dallas County Judge Felt ‘Completely Helpless’ During Tornado Threat

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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crowley 1 Dallas County Judge Felt Completely Helpless During Tornado Threat

Frank Crowley Courthouse (Credit: CBSDFW.com)

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – While most of North Texas escaped serious injuries in Tuesday’s tornado outbreak, some Dallas County district judges housed in the Frank Crowley Courts Building were concerned their facility wasn’t prepared for the emergency.

“It was stressful and we kept seeing those tornadoes forming in different places,” said 204th Judicial District Court Judge Lena Levario.

While Judge Levario was able to watch on TV, other judges in the Crowley Courts Building had no idea if there was any danger and, if so, where to take roomfuls of witnesses and jurors.

The courtroom immediately next door to hers had 65 prospective jurors in it.

Judge Levario called the sheriff’s department, was transferred to something she knows only as “Central command” and eventually to homeland security.

She said she didn’t feel she got adequate information anywhere.

“I’m just concerned that the folks in charge give us the right information. When I called over there and they told me the threat had passed; it definitely had not passed,” she said.

Rumors flew, she said. Some said go to the second floor, others said to assemble on the first floor.

“But our bailiffs were saying, ‘No, our folks are telling us to stay tight,’ so we did,” Levario said.

On Wednesday, she fired off a letter to commissioners asking just who was in charge in a tornado emergency.

It said, in part, “I felt completely helpless.”

She pointed out there was a similar breakdown when the basement of the Frank Crowley Courts Building flooded in March.

“I would like for someone to tell me who is in charge during an emergency,” she wrote.

“We learn from each of these incidents in ways that we can improve,” County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

Jenkins says there are protocols in place. Although, he admits, if someone doesn’t know them then the system has broken down.

But as the top local homeland security official, he was in a command center that day and knew tornadoes had not formed over downtown Dallas.

“We can look at that and if there’s a need for an evacuation or a movement to a different location, that announcement will go over a public address system,” he said.

Some county workers got alerts on computers; temporary worker Tracy Dismue said she was never worried.

“I wasn’t quite sure what was going on initially. We were told to go down to the first floor; when we got there we were told there was no immediate threat,” Dismue said.

Dismue says he was later told she could go back to work but was advised to stay away from windows.

Judge Levario says she now has an emergency book with emergency protocols. She said she will help instruct her 16 fellow district court judges.

“They’re all anxious to learn and anxious to have practice drills,” she says.

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