Inspired by Tragedy: Dr. Michael Brown

April 2011 began like most every spring in Alabama. As the month unfolded, the National Weather Service began to voice concerns for the central and northern regions of the state regarding the possibility of tornadoes near the end of the month. The early morning of the 27th provided just a preview of the disaster that awaited the small community of Arab during the course of the day.

“I remember standing just outside my basement door watching the powerful swirls of wind and hoping beyond all hope the weather prognosticator’s predictions were wrong. It was such an odd day, never allowing us to relax or even breathe a sigh of relief. It was one storm after another. After the loss of power, I drove the few miles to my farm where I retrieved a diesel–powered generator and restored television and computer service to our home. During the course of that day, two to three dozen neighbors sought shelter in our basement. People were literally hanging on every word concerning the weather. It was a day that just seemed to go on forever. It would be nine long days before electrical repairs would be made. Needless to say, we grilled up all the frozen foods from the neighborhood—we ate well,” says Dr. Michael Brown.

Arab Veterinary Hospital was readied via a generator to receive injured pets and livestock. It was in the midst of this that the community learned of the tragic deaths of the Hallmark family (five total). This family had ties in many directions in this small community of about 8,000 folks.

The tornadoes killed 238 people that day, making it the deadliest tornado outbreak on record in Alabama. Marshall County, where Arab is located, experienced 14 confirmed tornado tracks, making it the highest ever recorded nationwide in one day. According to meteorological reports, the afternoon tornado reached a span of 1.25 miles with estimated peak winds of 210 mph as it traveled 47 miles.

Sadly, the deaths included Shane Hallmark, his parents Phillip and Ann, his young nephew Jayden, and his wife Jennifer. Shane and Jennifer’s six–year–old daughter Ari was injured badly but survived. Shane’s first job had been as a young jack–of–many–trades at both the veterinary hospital and the farm. This was a family that meant a great deal to so many people in Arab.

Four years later, a piece of commercial property came on the market, and with it came a great opportunity. During the two–year renovation of the existing building, Dr. Brown was able to add a basement at the south end, building it to specifications sufficient to withstand a Category 5 storm. The shelter is located inside Thompson Hall and bears the name “Hallmark Safe House” and is just under 1,000 square feet. It will accommodate about 30 people seated, along with as many pets.

Why It Works

The shelter has a designated storm manager and is equipped with telephone, television, internet, a restroom and a small work surface.  Being pet–friendly is such an important feature because it allows the hospital to honor and care for an entire family.  While there are several other shelters in the community, AVH is the only one open to pets.

Why It Matters

“My family joined the community in mourning their loss, and it was during this time and the days to follow as I surveyed the damage, I was determined to find a way to offer a safe haven during bad weather, particularly to people with pets,” concludes Dr. Brown. +