By David Colmans
The Gulf, Atlantic and all Southern states are paying homage to Severe Weather Awareness Week. That's excellent. We listen with good intentions.
While local and state governments, along with FEMA and state National Guard units, work hard to get their plans updated, there are a few million people involved in these states that often miss the point of why these drills take place and what it means to prepare.
Let's look at what happened starting from the recent past with Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, and devastating floods that affected several states more than once. Look at the sky the next time a severe thunderstorm approaches and watch the cloud to ground strikes that invariably result in house, apartment and business fires that destroy not just things but often kill people.
How many people will continue to lose their lives because they refuse to evacuate when a major hurricane is headed their way? How many people continue to get trapped in quickly rising water because they ignore weather warnings, don't pay attention to local news or have a weather alert radio?
How many homes and apartments catch fire from lightening or other causes, and the occupants have no evacuation plan, no idea of how they can get out of their dwelling if the main exits are blocked, or don't even have working smoke alarms at home?
There are many steps we can take to do our part to protect life and limb.
· A weather alert radio is a must in every home since often disasters occur after TVs and broadcast radios are turned off.
· Working smoke detectors are a must. When the alarm starts to chirp, change the batteries. Don't just throw them away.
· Families with small children or disabled adults should rehearse fast evacuations so everyone knows what to do and where to go if a problem occurs anywhere in the home or apartment.
· Take the time to consider where you are in relation to potential flooding when not at home and what to do if floodwaters develop. The state's emergency management agency web site and the FEMA web site are good sources along with the Institute for Business and Home Safety and the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.
· When evacuation orders are given, GO! The longer a family waits to act, the more difficult it is to get through heavy traffic.
· An emergency kit can be very helpful in your vehicle if a rapid evacuation is required. First aid kit, drinking water for each family member, non-perishable food and a place for prescription medications for anyone in the family who may need them are important. Also, a waterproof container for important family papers is recommended such as insurance policies, family contact information, and other papers that may be hard to replace.
There are many other action items that should be considered.
· Familiarity with alternate evacuation routes since interstates become crowded very fast.
· A working fire extinguisher.
· Battery or hand-crank am/fm/weather radio.
· Battery-powered lights including flashlights, lanterns and flashing red lights for emergency notification are a must.
The important issue is to be aware that bad things don't happen only to other people. When severe weather approaches, or other disasters occur such as an explosion at a chemical plant or a train derailment, we may be involved whether we are ready or not. Best to be ready.
David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.