Here in November, hurricane season’s last hurrah overlaps with Mississippi’s second most active month for tornadoes.
Emergency management experts say some fairly simple preparations can make a big difference in surviving and getting back to normal when disaster hits close to home.
One of the first things any family or business should do to prepare for severe weather is to have multiple ways to monitor the weather.
“One of the key things on severe weather is, you need the information on where the weather is and where it’s going,” said Jimmy Allgood, emergency management coordinator for the city of Oxford.
Jeff Rent of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said a NOAA weather radio – available at many retail stores – is crucial. A radio can be programmed to respond to watches and warnings in a broad area or just for one county.
“Most often when you hear of tornado fatalities, they happen at night. The weather radio is a simple device that will wake you up and alert you to take action if there’s dangerous weather in your area,” he said. “Not everybody can afford a storm shelter, but these radios are inexpensive, and they are as important to a family’s home as a smoke detector.”
Have a kit
The Federal Emergency Management Agency emphasizes three steps to prepare not just for the possibility of tornadoes but disasters of all kinds: (1) get a kit; (2) make a plan; and (3) be informed.
A basic emergency kit should focus on items necessary for survival and rescue: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth – followed closely by light and communications. A kit should be kept wherever the safest place is in a home to ride out a storm.
Store enough water (a gallon per day per person) and food (with can opener) for everyone in your house for at least three days. A first-aid kit, blankets or sleeping bags, flashlights, extra batteries, and a cell phone, whistle (to alert rescuers) and battery- or hand-powered radio follow closely in importance. Sanitation needs such as garbage bags and moist towelettes can be crucial for any extended crisis.
Unless one has a reinforced “safe room” or an underground shelter, mattresses, sofa cushions and other items that deflect flying debris are a desirable addition to the storm cache.
Allgood suggests having another kit for emergencies that require leaving home.
“Have your all-hazards preparedness kit – water, food, copies of important documents, cell phone – in the car,” he said.
Make a plan
A crisis plan should include having an out-of-town person who everyone in the family can contact if they can’t reach each other. Make sure everyone knows the emergency contact’s name and contact information.
Also, each family should have two designated places to meet – one in case of local disaster and another in case a disaster impacts the broader region.
Dwellers of mobile or modular homes should be especially alert to threatening weather. According to some studies, mobile-home dwellers are five to 10 times more likely to die if a tornado hits them than are people in site-built homes.
“Part of that plan is knowing ahead of time where you’re going,” said MEMA’s Rent. “Abandoning your mobile home during severe weather is a potentially life-saving action. We’re not telling people not to buy them, but they’re not a safe place to go through a storm.”
Several counties and cities in Northeast Mississippi have partnered with the state to install above-ground tornado shelters near fire stations and community centers. For those who can afford them, home-based underground storm shelters or engineered, inside-the-home saferooms are another option.
The third step in FEMA’s preparedness list is being informed. That can mean monitoring the weather and knowing how close danger is, but it also means deciding and rehearsing what to do in case of extreme emergency. Have family members drill at least yearly in where to go and what to do if a tornado is imminent.
Emergency management officials also suggest knowing about the other possible hazards in one’s area. Someone living near a major railroad or highway, for instance, may need to plan for a chemical-related evacuation, while someone living far down a wooded lane may be more concerned about clearing a way to get out or for help to get in after an ice storm or wind storm.
“We’re constantly preaching year-round preparedness for weather,” Rent said.
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal