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  • In Case of a House Fire...Plan Ahead

    House FireOn the night of March 30, a fire ripped through a block of apartment buildings in Brooklyn, N.Y. Though no one lost their lives, at least 35 families were displaced. Three buildings burned and two others were damaged.

    The New York Times described the struggles of the next few days for several families.

    “How the days, even weeks, after a fire play out for someone it has displaced are largely determined by what that person can grab in the seconds before escaping,” wrote Times reporter Michael Wilson.

    The American Red Cross helps at about 70,000 house fires every year in the United States, an average of one every eight minutes, said Rich Woodruff Red Cross Communications Director for the Utah Region of the American Red Cross.

    When they’re thinking about preparing for a fire, many people remember 72-hour kits or go bags. Some even remember to gather extras like diapers and prescription medication. Here are a few things Woodruff said people tend to forget when they’re planning for rapid evacuation.

    First, have an evacuation plan and rehearse it. Map two exit routes and arrange meeting places in case household members get separated from each other. Also arrange meeting places and phone contacts out of town in case of a widespread emergency. Ready.gov has templates to make planning easier.

    “Let’s say at 3 a.m., the smoke alarm goes off, and you can’t see well. Instead of panicking, you have a predetermined route,” Woodruff said.

    Second, plan for pets. Pets are often overlooked in peoples’ emergency plans, Woodruff said.

    When packing a grab-and-go kit for household members, pack one for pets. Pack things like food and a water bowl. Make sure each pet has identification, like a collar or microchip. The Red Cross has a pet first aid app and other pet preparedness information.

    For a few days after the Brooklyn apartment fire, according to the New York Times story, one resident, Luke Moffitt, worried about his cats. He’d opened a window on the way out so they could escape, but he hadn’t seen them. He was lucky. When firefighters allowed him to enter his apartment, he found them inside. A building superintendent who raised pigeons on the roof of another building lost all of them.

    hard drive connected to the computer with vital documents House Fire

    Third, keep digital copies of important papers either in the cloud or in a place like a safe-deposit box. These include papers like wills, vital records, financial and legal information and ownership records. One of the greatest struggles for people displaced in the Brooklyn fire was finding and recreating vital records, the New York Times story reported.

    For example, the Red Cross gave out preloaded debit cards to fire victims, but adult family members had to have identification to receive them. The Rondon family had five adults and an infant living in their apartment. Only one adult, away during the fire, escaped with his ID. Two others found ID copies by calling an employer.

    The Quinones family needed their son’s birth certificate and proof of residence to get into temporary housing. They got a letter from their son’s pediatrician since they didn’t have a birth certificate. They had to get a form signed by their landlord and notarized since they had no lease on hand. A few days later, demolition workers recovered their battered file cabinet that contained birth certificates and other important papers.

    On average, people have two minutes to escape from a burning house, Woodruff said. When the Brooklyn blaze began, one man was on his way to the shower. He escaped shirtless and shoeless, no phone, no wallet. Emergencies aren’t convenient. But preparing for them can make the aftermath a little more bearable.

    The Red Cross has emergency preparedness apps like first aid, emergency alerts and preparedness for kids.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner house fire

  • Tornado Warning vs. Watch: Knowing the Difference Could Save Your Life

    When the sky goes dark and the winds pick up, should you be worried about a tornado? Depending on where you live, maybe you should be. But not every thunderstorm produces tornadoes. So how are you supposed to know when it’s time to find shelter as opposed to sitting down with a blanket and hot coco?

    One of the best ways is to follow your local weather forecast for alerts. There are two in particular that are important to know regarding tornadoes: Watch and Warning.

     

    Tornado Watch

    Tornado warning and WatchWhen your local weather team issues a tornado watch, it means that conditions for a tornado are favorable. Much like bird watching, people are searching the skies for a glimpse of a tornado. So far, however, nobody has spotted one.

    But just because it hasn’t been spotted yet doesn’t mean it won’t ever form. When a tornado watch is issued for your area, use that time to inspect your emergency supplies, review your emergency plans, and make sure you have a safe room you can get to in a moment’s notice.

    Tornado watches can cover a large area, so don’t be surprised if a tornado does come, just not to your neighborhood (or, on the other hand, it does come for a visit).

     

    Tornado Warning

    Beautifully structured supercell thunderstorm in American Plains Tornado warning

    Danger! If you receive a tornado warning, it means a storm is quickly on approach. But it’s not just any storm. This one indicates there is a strong rotation as picked up by Doppler Radar. That, or there has been a confirmed sighting of a tornado.

    This is the time to take shelter immediately. Get to your safe room or otherwise shelter in a safe place. Life and property are considered at imminent risk during a tornado warning, so there is no time to delay in retreating to safety. Steer clear of windows and outside walls. Move inward and to the lowest level of the building as possible. Do not use an elevator – use stairs.

    Unlike tornado watches, warnings cover a much smaller locale, so if you are within the area specified, you definitely need to take action.

     

    Being aware of the weather around you is one of the many ways of staying safe. Since you may not always have power during these storms, it’s smart to have an emergency weather radio on hand so you can keep tabs on what’s going on outside, and if there are any tornado watches or warnings in effect.

    When storms pick up, stay alert and aware of the weather going on outside – especially if you live in a tornado-prone area. Knowing what the difference is between a tornado watch and a tornado warning can make all the difference when it comes to weathering the storms around you.

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner Tornado warning

  • Be Prepared for Anything this Tornado Season

    Supercell over the Great Plains tornado season Supercell over the Great Plains

    My family used to live on the western side of Tornado Alley. My husband worked as a sheriff’s deputy. When a supercell – the storm system that produces tornadoes – developed, he had to follow it. First, he needed to make sure a tornado wasn’t developing or heading toward a population center. Second, he needed to close roads to keep amateur tornado chasers away from a tornado’s path. With good reason. Our family once followed a wall cloud during a tornado warning and it seemed like half the town was on the road with us.

    On April 21, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center used the phrase “Severe weather outbreak possible” to describe an April 26 forecast for potential major storms in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Six days in advance they forecast a moderate risk of severe storms and tornadoes. This was the earliest in advance the center had ever used that phrase, according to SPC representative Keli Pirtle, in a story by the Associated Press.

    That’s useful for emergency managers but might be counterproductive for others. In a study published in 2011, researchers found a longer warning time before a tornado would make more than 44 percent of respondents feel that the situation was less life threatening.

    Also, four times more people said they would try to flee, which could be dangerous. On May 31, 2013, according to the AP story, the widest tornado recorded killed eight people west of Oklahoma City. A National Weather Service assessment said all eight were in their vehicles.

    "Everyone had always thought that increasing lead time was good," Kim Klockow, a visiting scientist at NOAA headquarters told the AP. "People just don't like to be sitting ducks."

    So, why provide a forecast with such a long lead time? One meteorologist told the AP he wanted people to take the time to prepare.

    "Can they go out and buy a weather radio this weekend? Can you vacuum the spider webs out of your storm shelter?" asked Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman. "It's April. We're in Oklahoma and Texas. We need to be doing this anyway."

    Here are some ways to prepare for tornado season.

    Home & Tornado seasonFirst, have a plan and a place to go. That place can be in a home, in a personal storm shelter or in a public storm shelter. Seventy percent of respondents to the 2011 study said they had a tornado action plan. However, only 53 percent said they had a place to take shelter.

    Second, get a battery-powered or hand-cranked weather radio.

    Third, prepare a grab-and-go bag and personalize it. After the Japanese earthquake on April 18, 2016, Reuters reported shortages at shelters.

    "There's no milk and only the diapers we brought with us. Once they run out, there's nothing." one woman with a two-month-old told TV Asahi, according to the Reuters story.

    Fourth, keep copies of vital information stored offsite or easy to grab. When an apartment building burned in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 30, the Red Cross offered preloaded debit cards to victims, according to the New York Times. However, to get the cards, the building’s residents had to have identification. One woman who ran out of her apartment without her ID fortunately remembered her employer had a copy. Not everyone was as lucky.

    Vital information can also include birth certificates, medical records and insurance information.

    Fifth, be prepared for more than just tornadoes. During the May 2013 tornado, according to the NWS repot, one woman said she and seven other people were sheltering in a cellar when it began filling with water from a flash flood.

    “We stayed in there until the water got too high,” she said. “We just hoped the tornado was over by that point.”

    Sixth, be cautious. After you’ve been through several tornado warnings, it’s easy to be blasé.

    Tornado's Coming! Tornado season

     

    Please don’t try what that above meme suggests. And if you must chase a tornado, obey law enforcement and stay out of its path. Four of the people killed during the May 31, 2013 Oklahoma tornado were storm chasers, three of whom were experienced professionals.

     

    How are you preparing for tornado season? Let us know in the comments!

     

    Disaster_Blog_Banner tornado season

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