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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Preparing for Emergencies

In honor of National Preparedness Month and after the past few weeks of tropical storms, hurricanes, and earthquakes on the east coast, I thought it was an appropriate time to talk a little bit about how you can prepare for a weather disaster in your own house.  Part of my full-time job is emergency preparedness (I'm responsible for creating the emergency plans in our buildings and for carrying out those plans in the event of an emergency), but I am by no means an expert (check out NOAA,, the American Red Cross, or The Weather Channel for comprehensive information).  Here are some of the things I've learned about preparing for severe weather.

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The most common weather issue we have in our part of Georgia is tornadoes, so that's the concentration of this post.  Peak tornado season is technically April through July, although they can happen any time of year (I was in charge of an evacuation a few years ago in January, and we just had a tornado warning last night).  The best thing to remember about tornadoes is that a tornado watch means conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop (so you should keep watch) and a tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted in your area.  Here are some things you can do to be ready.

Stay informed.  
  • Subscribe to alert services through The Weather Channel (they offer text message alerts) or a local news service.  Have a weather radio at home to listen to updates, preferably one that is battery- or crank-powered.
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Have a plan.  
  • Where is the best place in your home to shelter?  Remember that you should be in a place that is the most secure from wind-- so a first floor interior room is the best place to go.
  • What happens if your cell phones are dead or can't connect to a network?  How do you communicate to your out-of-town family that you're okay?  Pick one out-of-town friend or family member who you will be in touch with if the worst happens.
  • What if you are driving when a tornado warning is issued?  Get out of your car and shelter in a ditch, and never ever shelter under a bridge or overpass.

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What do you need in your emergency kit?  
  • Typically, plan for three days without power or water. has a very comprehensive checklist here.   It's also good to have around if your area is likely to experience a blizzard.
  • We don't have all of this right this minute (it's expensive to buy everything at once), but I've been trying to buy a few extra things each month so we'll be covered.  It's also tough for us to store 3-5 days of extra food and supplies since we're in such a small house and most of our closets are full of everyday things.  But if you've got the space, go ahead and dedicate space in your home to storm shelter storage-- and don't use anything from that space (like soup or dog food) without replacing it.

  • Tornado watch (conditions are favorable for a tornado to develop):  Get ready to put your plan in place.  If storms are bad in your area at this point, go ahead and stock your sheltering area.  Tornado watches usually last for several hours at a time.
  • Tornado warning (a tornado has been sighted in your area):  As soon as the warning is called, get to your sheltering area.  Tornado warnings only last for 30-45 minutes and they mean business.
Back in April when a series of tornadoes hit Georgia, Mr. Great Indoors and I got to practice our emergency preparedness.  Once the tornado watch was called for our area, we piled all of our emergency supplies in the guest bathroom (which is the only interior room of our house) so we would be ready when the warning was called.  Unhappily, the warning didn't come until about 1am, so we dragged ourselves (and our poor tired puppy) out of bed and into the fully stocked bathroom.

What we had ready:
  • Book bags with food and a can opener, extra toiletries, bottled water, and first aid kit supplies
  • Extra change of clothes, especially boots and socks
  • Sleeping bags 
  • Dog food (and a bone to keep Chewy occupied)

Those April storms actually did a lot of damage in our hometowns, tearing up a lot of the area close to our parents' houses.  Thankfully, though, none of our family members were injured and their houses came out fairly unscathed.  Tornadoes aren't predictable about where they land, so much of the affected area had untouched houses standing next to structures that were completely demolished.  So frightening.

I know this post is specifically about tornadoes, but it's a good thing to know what to do in the event of any emergency, whether it's weather, medical, or otherwise.  What natural disasters are most likely to happen in your area?  Get trained at work or at home, take a CPR and First Aid class with the American Red Cross or other community group, or participate in a group like the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which a community can use as secondary response in the event of an emergency that overwhelms first responders.  It's up to you to be prepared for an emergency; if first response infrastructure is down, you've got to take care of yourself!  Maybe it's because of the responsibilities of my job, but I don't think you can ever be over-trained on any emergency information.

Do you have any tips to prepare for an emergency?  Ever been through a tornado or other natural disaster yourself?


  1. great tips! our earthquake taught me that I only thought I knew what to do during a natural disaster. Now we have a tornado plan and and an earthquake plan!

  2. Good thinking! We east-coasters would never think to be prepared for an earthquake, but even where we are in Georgia could be affected by faults hundreds of miles from us. Pretty crazy!


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