Are you prepared for the spring storm season?
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Niki de Soto, Staff Writer
The Spring storm season is upon us -- do you and your family know what to do in an emergency or a disaster? Every threat, from wind storms, floods or power outages reminds us to be proactive when it comes to planning strategies to survive a disaster and recover quickly.
Communities within the quad county area are taking steps to ensure that residents are ready should a severe storm hit our region.
Izard County has implemented an automatic warning system called Code Red which alerts county residents to national weather alerts in their area.
With the severe weather season upon us, Dennis Williams, coordinator of the Office of Emergency Management for Izard County says the system is a great tool for individuals and businesses to receive timely severe storm warnings.
"The warnings are automatically triggered when the National Weather Service issues a warning that includes their address. All businesses should register, as well as all individuals. Land lines and cell phones are both eligible to be submitted," said Williams.
Izard County Judge Rayburn Finley is strongly behind the program. "I think it's going to work really well, especially for the folks in the rural areas. It will help keep them safe," said Finley.
When someone answers the alert phone call, the system will automatically check them off the list. If they don't answer, the system will add them to the bottom of the list and try to call again. If someone misses the call but has voicemail, it will leave a message for them to call and when they call in, they'll get the weather message.
To sign up online, go to www.myizardcounty.com and click the Code Red link. Just follow the directions on the screen and click submit.
Fulton County is exploring an automated alert option, but at this time has no warning system in place. The county continues to watch for grants to be able to purchase tornado sirens, as their cost would be prohibitive without assistance from grant funds.
"We have response plans in place, but people in the community need to be prepared themselves with things like weather radios, and they need to make sure they have a plan in place of what they're going to do and where they're going to go before a storm hits," said OEM Coordinator for Fulton County, Darrell Zimmer.
"In the past year, we had a lot of people driving into low water crossings that prompted several water rescues," said Zimmer. "Remember the phrase, "Turn around, don't drown."
The new school in Viola incorporated a storm shelter into its design, based on FEMA 361 guidelines, which state design, construction, and operation criteria for community safe rooms that will provide near-absolute life safety protection during tornado and hurricane events.
It also provides guidance for architects, engineers, building officials, local officials and emergency managers, and prospective safe room owners and operators about the design, construction, and operation of community safe rooms in extreme-wind events.
The Fulton County Hospital has recently signed up with an automated text alert system called City Alerts. According to the non-profit's Web site, "when an incident occurs in a certain zip code and becomes public information, registered government accounts will broadcast that alert members who have elected to receive warnings in that area. The system sends a text message directly to the member's wireless mobile device."
For those interested in signing up for the service, you can register online at www.cityalerts.org.
In the city of Alton, their new tornado shelter was scheduled for a tornado drill when an actual alert sounded.
"Our first drill was really not a drill," said Alton R-IV School District Superintendent and Tornado Shelter Site Coordinator Sheila Wheeler.
The day after receiving the keys to the new FEMA funded tornado shelter, workers were still putting on some finishing touches when there was an actual tornado warning and the new shelter was put to use.
Built on the campus of the Alton school, the tornado shelter serves as the gymnasium for the elementary and is used for elementary and high school physical education, health and other classes.
Should an emergency situation occur, the facility would be used by students, staff and the surrounding community as a shelter.
The Alton school received a Federal grant of $1.3 million, and was approved for a 90/10 division of financial responsibility for the project.
The shelter will accommodate up to 1,600 people. "The tornado shelter was built to FEMA 361 guidelines and is designed to withstand a wind event up to 250 miles an hour," said Wheeler.
Endorsed by the American Red Cross and the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency, Oregon County's "Ready in Three" focuses on three steps families can take to prepare for many kinds of emergencies.
The three steps are 1) Create a plan, 2) Prepare a kit and 3) Listen for information.
According to the program, you should plan for two situations -- staying home or leaving. Deciding whether it is best to stay or go depends on the type of emergency. Officials may tell you what you need to do, but in some cases, limited communication and information may require you to decide what is best for you and your family. Having a plan in place before disaster hits is key in keeping your family safe.
During an emergency, you may not be able to get food or water for days or weeks, and your electricity may not be working. The following items should be part of your emergency kit and kept in a container that can be easily carried if you need to leave home:
* Water -- families should set aside one gallon of water per person per day, to last three days.
* Canned or dried food -- families should set aside a three-day supply of food per person. The food should be nonperishable items that don't need to be cooked, such as tuna and crackers. Remember to include a manual can opener. If there's an infant in the house, include formula and baby food.
* Battery-powered weather radio.
* Extra batteries for the radio and flashlight.
* List of prescription medications.
* First-aid kit.
* For power outages, consider adding a corded telephone to your emergency kit if you are using only cordless telephones in your home currently.
* Learn how to use text messaging on your cell phone, as most text messages will be sent even when you do not have cellular signal to make a call.
* For your car, keep a small, portable emergency supply kit in it at all times. You should include a gallon of water, several cans of food, a manual can opener, blankets, sleeping bags, money and first-aid supplies.
* At work, keep your own supply of fresh water and canned food, a flashlight, and battery-powered radio in your desk or in your locker. Everyone should consider keeping a change of clothes and a pair of strong, practical shoes or boots at work.
* For your pets, make sure they have identification tags and up-to-date vaccinations. If you must leave home, bring your pet with you, if possible. You can plan ahead by creating a supply kit for your pet that includes extra food, water and medications. A carrier and leash will also be important. For cats, remember to include extra litter.
* It's also a good idea to back up vital records and information saved on computer hard drives and store that information at a distant offsite location. Computer data should be backed up routinely. Copies of important documents and CDs should be stored in fire-proof safe deposit boxes offsite.
* And finally, remember to listen for information. It is important to stay calm in an emergency, and to get as much information about the situation as possible. If there is no electricity, make sure to have a battery-powered radio with additional batteries so you can listen for updates and instructions.
City, county, and state officials have developed emergency plans, and in the event of an actual emergency, it's important to follow their instructions and advice, and it's just as important that your family has a plan in place that everyone can implement in an emergency.