By Emily Brainard, Army Flier StaffFebruary 25, 2010
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Alabama Severe Weather Awareness Week took place Feb. 22-26 and post officials hope the annual campaign increased public awareness about the necessity to prepare for hazardous weather.
With several severe weather seasons approaching, and a transient population often unfamiliar with local weather conditions, officials recommend the installation community become accustomed with Fort Rucker's procedures and guidelines.
Tornadoes usually occur beginning in March and crop up again in November, but can happen year-round, said Cindy Howell, Fort Rucker Weather Operations assistant site manager. Severe thunderstorms often take place from May through September, hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and flooding can occur at any time.
For those unaware of how to handle sudden natural disasters, "the best advice is to be prepared," Howell said.
The three most important steps to reaching a sufficient level of preparedness include developing Family disaster plans, assembling disaster supply kits and knowing how to react to weather watches and warnings, she said.
People must plan evacuation routes and establish local and out-of-area emergency contacts, Howell said. Plans must include pet care because many emergency shelters do not allow furry friends. Families should designate "safe rooms" at home - such as basements, closets or interior rooms - for when indoor shelter is necessary, such as during tornadoes.
Supply kits should include items like non-perishable food, water, medications, flashlights, batteries, battery-powered radios, first-aid kits, blankets, changes of clothing, cash, ID cards and any other necessary supplies, she said.
Understanding the differences between storm watches and warnings is also important, Howell added.
"A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions may occur within 36 hours. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected within 24 hours," she said. "A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes. A tornado warning means (to) seek cover immediately. A tornado has been sighted or is indicated on Doppler radar."
Other storm safety tips include keeping vehicle gas tanks full, cell phones and laptops fully charged and outdoor objects secured at all times.
The Army's safety campaign, Ready Army, has more safety tips at their Web site, www.acsim.army.mil/readyarmy. The site suggests people install storm shutters and roof clips on their homes to minimize structural damage, and trim and maintain trees and shrubs during hurricane season.
People should always evacuate when orders to do so are given, after securing homes and collecting emergency supplies. Other tips include monitoring weather reports continually and avoiding driving in standing water during floods.
Above all, individuals and Families must be prepared and remain vigilant whether storms are imminent or not, according to Lt. Col. Michael Hughes, Fort Rucker Emergency Operations Officer.
"Something catastrophic like Haiti could happen, and people need to be prepared at all times," he said. "Be ready to support yourself."
Preparedness is so important simply because severe weather situations often come up suddenly or without much warning.
"The weather can be unpredictable. Preparation is key, and the time to prepare is now," Howell said. "We ask that people review Fort Rucker's siren signals for tornado warnings and all-clear (at www.rucker.army.mil/6weather/genwx.htm). While there is a siren test each month, we will never run a test if the weather is questionable, so when you hear the siren, treat it as a real-life situation and respond accordingly."