Huntsville residents are no strangers to severe storms – particularly high winds and devastating tornados. This is the fourth and final story in a series of articles on how City agencies prepare for severe weather as we enter peak season for storms.
You’ve heard the basics if you’ve been a resident of North Alabama for any length of time. Go to a basement or a small room at the center of the house. Stay away from windows. Abandon a vehicle (most of the fatalities from the devastating 1989 tornado were in cars) or mobile home for a secure building. If nothing else, lie in a ditch or culvert and cover your head with your arms.
“You need to know where the safest place in your home is,” says Scott Worsham of the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency. “If there’s a warning, that’s not the time to be thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, where am I going to go?’ And you should extend that to knowing safe places at your workplace.”
There are a variety of classes and seminars to educate you on storm preparedness (Visit the EMA website for information and follow EMA on Twitter at @HMCEMA).
A map of shelters in Madison County is available here. Officials recommend finding the shelter nearest you now and putting its number into your phone. You’re then encouraged to call the shelter as a storm approaches, to assure it hasn’t been adversely affected.
Plus, in the event of a severe weather situation that involves City closure, the City of Huntsville activates a resource page on HuntsvilleAL.gov, compiling need-to-know information and services. When activated, users will see a red ‘alert’ banner across the top of the homepage that includes a link to the relevant information.
Beyond that, tornado preparation can range from common sense to cookies. Here are some things to consider, per Worsham, and reprinted by permission from the Emergency Management Agency website:
Put the camera away
YouTube already has enough homemade videos of tornadoes. Yours is not going to blow up the Internet with 1,000,000 views. Put your phone back in your pocket, get out of the car and get to safety. Leave the video chronicling of a tornado to a pro.
Dress the part
Simple, but important. As you head to your safe place, make sure you’re wearing shoes. The thicker and sturdier the sole the better, should you have to trod through the rubble. Put on a jacket.
Helmets = Good
Much sport used to be made of a local weatherman who’d breathlessly encourage parents to have their children don football helmets as they went into the safe place. But as Worsham points out, “A majority of tornado fatalities are from blunt force trauma. It actually makes sense to wear a helmet.”
Take care of your pets
Consider your pets. Keep them safe. If you have time, board them in an area out of storm’s reach. If you’re relocated, remember that not all hotels and motels accept pets. Call first.
At home, prepare for each family member a Grab-and-Go Kit with a 3-day supply of food, water, clothes, medicine, baby items, etc. If you evacuate your home, it keeps you self-sufficient until your family is reassembled and settled.
Establish a nearby meeting place
Establish a rendezvous point just outside the home (the mailbox, for example, where everyone meets and counts heads after leaving the house). This allows quick identification of who is missing, which is vital information for rescuers.
Establish a meeting place farther away
Also establish a meeting place one or two miles from home (a friend or relative’s house, for example) where family members can assemble if access to their home is impossible because of destruction and danger. It may be unlikely that both places will be affected by the same disaster and this immediately gives your family a place to assemble. Also, make sure it is not too far to walk.
Identify a primary contact
Designate an out-of-town family member who can contact other relatives. A central contact can call the many distant relatives who otherwise would all be trying to call the devastated area.
Supplies, supplies, supplies
Get a NOAA Weather Radio, first aid supplies and flashlight with batteries. Safeguard vital records, keys, cash, credit cards, etc. Keep emergency supplies and equipment in your car.
Insurance is very, very important
Make certain you’re insured. Some individuals devastated by the 1989 tornado which hit the City of Huntsville did not have insurance and consequently lost their homes, businesses, and their possessions. Apartment dwellers can get insurance, too.
There are even tiny bits of proactivity that might help. Worsham recalls a phone call from an elderly woman who lived alone and called EMA as a potentially devastating storm approached. She feared her house wouldn’t withstand the storm.
“Do your neighbors have a more secure house?” Worsham asked.
“They have a brick house, but I don’t know them,” she said.
“Then you can find a ditch somewhere.”
“But there might be snakes,” she said.
Finally, Worsham said, “Ma’am, if we come through this OK, my suggestion is you need to bake a plate of cookies and go knock on the door and introduce yourself to your neighbors.”