Thursday, August 25, 2011

Preparing for Irene

NOTE: Mr. Lopes, a life long Montgomery County resident, is an emergency management professional and has published numerous articles and information on disaster safety for some 25 years. I am grateful he is sharing his knowledge with all of us.  Bill Delaney, MCFRS

by Rocky Lopes
Emergency Manager and Disaster Preparedness Guy

It's all over the news, Hurricane Irene is making its way up the East Coast.  We haven't had a visit from a tropical system in Montgomery County in quite some time, so it's time to dust off our preparedness plans.

However, we have to be realistic.  We don't live on the ocean here in Montgomery County, so we think that a hurricane won't really affect us like it may affect homes, condos, and other structures on the Atlantic coastline.  If you own property or are visiting this blog from a location on the coast, you should consult your local emergency management (county, city) for information applicable directly to your area of concern.  Here is a link to a list of all emergency management agencies serving Maryland jurisdictions.

Here are some realistic preparation tips for a visit from what we may call a "brush-by" of a tropical system. These preparation tips have been adjusted to apply to an inland area such as Montgomery County.  There are three major issues that we need to be concerned with:
Rain and localized flooding
Power Outages

Keep Informed

Make sure that you arrange to get storm alerts in real-time.  A  NOAA Weather Radio provides location-specific information in real-time, and will sound an alert for events like floods, tornadoes, high winds, tropical storms, and much more.  You can get one of these radios at any local electronics specialty store.  Also consider signing up for  Alert Montgomery if you haven't already done so. It's a great way to get localized and personalized information from our County's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Be aware that tropical systems are variable and may change direction and intensity quickly.  Continue to watch local TV and listen to local radio for updated information.  Also, do NOT pay attention to the projected "center" of the storm.  The storm will affect large areas over hundreds of miles.  Areas where the eye of the storm are not the only places where damage and destruction can happen -- tropical systems can wreak devastation in a path over 400 miles wide.

Get Ready

Discuss with your loved-ones what plans you have made.  If a problem happens like localized flooding from heavy rain, what will you do?  Where will you go if advised to leave for a while?  Choose a family or friend's place that is located on higher ground.  Call them in advance to see if you can come stay with them for a while.  It's always best to have these arrangements made in advance.

Bring things inside that could blow around and cause damage to your or a neighbor's home.  Trash cans, lawn furniture, picnic table umbrellas, outdoor decorations, wind chimes, hanging baskets, and so forth -- anything that could be blown by gusts of winds should be brought indoors, such as into a garage, basement, or shed.  We have to remember that even if we don't get a full-frontal assault of a major hurricane, it's the winds that cause a lot of damage where we live away from the coast.  Get ready for wind.

Be a leader:  advise your neighbors why you are bringing things inside and ask them to do the same.  Do it for elderly, disabled, or neighbors who are out of town who may not be able to take the precautions themselves.

In case the power may go out for a prolonged period of time, take time now to fill voids in your refrigerator and freezer.  That is, fill plastic bags with ice and fill your entire freezer.  Foods will keep frozen longer if there is less empty space in the freezer.  The same is true for the fridge. Rinse out and fill empty plastic bottles with water, and put them in the fridge.  Do it days in advance of the storm so the water can chill.  Turn the fridge to a colder setting, but not so low as to cause things to freeze.

Be realistic when stocking up on perishables. You don't really need five gallons of milk, 10 pounds of butter, and 19 dozen eggs.  Streets may be impassable due to debris in the road or stores may be closed, but only for a relatively short time.  Sure, stock up, but buy things that you and your family ordinarily will consume within a week's time. 

Get out the old-fashioned time-passers to keep kids (and adults) occupied.  Amazing how technology-dependent we all are these days, and kids become agitated if their favorite things to do don't work because the power is out.  Get some good books, and plan to read together as a family if the power is out.  (What a novel idea!)  Also, card games, Parcheesi, Monopoly, or other board games can be a lot of fun, especially because you probably haven't played these games together in a long time. 

It is a good idea to have canned foods and a manual can opener handy.  If the power goes out, you may have to live on canned fish, soup, and vegetables for a while.  A sterno portable stove is useful to heat things like soup in a power outage. 

If you take prescription medications and your supply is low, consider requesting a refill now so you don't run out if roads are blocked by downed tree limbs or flood waters.

Get out the flashlights and abandon the candles. (Candle fires are common during power outages and candles have not been recommended as emergency supplies for decades.)  Make sure you have fresh batteries for flashlights.  Here's a tip:  keep batteries out of flashlights until needed.  When batteries are kept in flashlights, they incur a slow drain and may not last as long.

Also, have a battery-powered radio so you can listen to local news if the power is out. 

Do not anticipate that a smart phone will continue to work or have ongoing service during a storm or a prolonged power outage. However, plan for a battery-charging backup and have a car charger handy.  You can recharge a mobile device from your car if the power is out in your home.

During the Storm
Continue listening to local TV and radio for updated information.

If advised of a Flash Flood Watch or Warning, take heed.  There are many local roadways that become inundated by rainwater.  If you must drive during or after the storm and you come upon a roadway covered with water, think.  Think about those who love you.  How would they feel if you were washed away by quick-moving floodwaters?  As little as a foot of water can sweep a vehicle off the road. And here's a little-known fact:  the tires of SUVs are larger and thus have more buoyancy, so SUVs are more likely to be displaced from a road than a car with smaller tires.  Turn around, don't drown!

Be aware that tornadoes sometimes spin off of a tropical system.  That is: there is a real threat that a tornado could be generated from this storm and affect our area.  If a tornado warning is issued, then grab your radio and flashlight, and move everyone to the lowest level of the building or home that you are in.  Get inside a room without windows -- a bathroom is a good choice.  Wait there until you hear that the warning is lifted and it's safe to come out. 

If power goes out or overhead wires are knocked down, report it to your power company.  It's also a good idea to go around your home and turn off anything that was on when the power went out so there won't be a huge surge (and potential damage) when the power comes back on.  Include air conditioning, televisions, dehumidifiers, and sensitive equipment like computers and electronics.

Use flashlights and non-perishable foods during a power outage.  Try not to open the refrigerator or freezer at all, or if you must, get everything out that you need at once and quickly shut the door.

Only call 9-1-1 or emergency services if there truly is a life-threatening emergency.  Our life-saving protectors will be busy and we need to give them a break so they can respond to the most urgent needs. 

Finally, have phone numbers handy for important contacts -- PEPCO (1-877-737-2662) or your local power company (if different), family, and elderly and disabled neighbors.

Be Patient

One of the most frustrating things after a storm is the waiting.  Use your non-electronic time passers to enjoy the time when you're disconnected.

Check on family, elderly, and disabled neighbors about their safety. 

Be Safe

Storms are one of life's major inconveniences.  But with a little realistic preparation and discussion with your loved-ones, you'll be more confident that you and those you love will be safe.

1 comment:

Rocky Lopes said...

It is my pleasure to contribute this information.

Some of my friends with whom I shared this piece suggested some additional things that I think are important, and I didn't cover in the original piece:

1) Make sure your vehicle's gas tank is filled. Power outages may prevent gas pumps from working after the storm.

2) If you have a portable generator, get fresh gas for it, make sure it's working, and always, always, operate it safely (outdoors in a well-ventilated area). Connect what you want powered directly to it -- don't connect it directly to your home's power supply (that's against the law and could cause power to energize the lines and electrocute repair workers.)

3) Remember pets in your plan, too. Have adequate food and water supplies for them, and keep them indoors during the storm. After the storm, don't let them drink rainwater which may be contaminated with chemicals, bacteria, or parasites. Keep pets close to keep them calm.

I encourage others reading this post to suggest additional preparedness tips that may not have been covered.

Be prepared and safe!