State, local emergency officials emphasize storm preparedness

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

From 2000 through 2009, Mississippi averaged 25.6 weather-related fatalities and 66.3 injuries. Hurricane Katrina skewed the averages in 2005, but even discounting that year, the state averages 7.7 deaths, 58.7 injuries and $229.5 million in damage annually.
State and local emergency management officials hope to reduce those numbers with a statewide focus this week on weather hazards and how to survive them. An annual exercise aimed at reminding Mississippians how they can prepare for, respond to and recover from weather-related disasters, Severe Weather Awareness Week begins Monday and runs through Friday.
“Education and preparation are the keys to staying safe during severe weather,” said Mike Womack, director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. “That’s why we take time each year to promote severe weather awareness in our state. Taking a few minutes to create a disaster kit and plan will go a long way in keeping you, your family and friends safe when severe weather strikes.”
Each day will have a different focus. Monday’s will be severe thunderstorms. These storms can generate large hail and straight-line winds of 100 miles per hour or more, which is enough to overturn many mobile homes.
On Tuesday, the theme will be “Turn Around; Don’t Drown!” That motto highlights the fact that most flooding deaths result when motorists drive on water-covered roads, where rushing currents can sweep cars downstream in just seconds.
Wednesday will emphasize tornado safety.
“Over and over again, people survive tornadic weather by knowing weather safety rules and taking appropriate and timely actions,” states a MEMA publication. The day’s exercises will include a statewide preparedness exercise.
“All schools and businesses are encouraged to participate in a tornado warning drill at 9:15 a.m.,” said David Shaw, emergency management coordinator for Lafayette County. “This is a good time to practice or at least discuss what you would do in the event of an actual tornado warning in your area.”
If Wednesday’s weather is threatening, the tornado drill will be moved to Thursday. Otherwise, the day’s efforts will focus on lightning. Lightning’s greatest danger obviously is to people who spend considerable time outside: From 2000 to 2009, almost 90 percent of lightning fatalities involved people who were working, playing or otherwise engaged in outdoor settings.
Friday is slated for a review of the week’s emphases. One message that weather authorities hope to convey is the importance of having multiple sources of weather information such as TV, phone alerts and NOAA weather radios.
“While our typical peak for severe weather in Mississippi is usually in the spring our residents need to be prepared all year long,” said Alan Gerard, meteorologist-in-charge for the National Weather Service’s Jackson office. “Having a reliable way of receiving weather warnings saves lives. Don’t place all your eggs in one basket; identify more than one way you can receive those weather alerts.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.