By Max Maxfield, Army.milApril 1, 2012
ARLINGTON, Va. (Aug. 27, 2012) -- With Tropical Storm Isaac bearing down on the Gulf Coast, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently increasing its estimate of named storms and hurricanes for 2012, military families near the Gulf Coast or the Eastern Seaboard should assess how vulnerable they are, and review their emergency plans to ensure they weather the season safely.
There are resources around the Web that can help families prepare for worst-case scenarios. Ready Army, Ready America, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, all have resources available at their websites that can help military families make emergency plans, protect their property from damage, and build "bug-out bags" in case mother nature takes aim at their homes.
Hurricanes can destroy a family home, and even take out an entire city, or region. Families should plan for emergencies and have their own emergency supplies ready for a sustained loss of support from outside agencies. Families cannot count on immediate support from local authorities if a hurricane cripples an entire area. Hurricane Katrina is an example of how one storm can overwhelm the support system families might think they can rely on for assistance.
Hurricane Katrina, which came ashore Aug. 28, 2005, as a Category 3 hurricane, was the most destructive storm in terms of economic losses, according to the NOAA. Its 125 mph winds and storm surge overwhelmed the city of New Orleans, and much of the surrounding area. It cost an estimated $125 billion in damage.
Military families can hope that they are not affected by a hurricane this season, but they should also prepare for the worst-case-scenario.
HAVE A PLAN
Families should have and emergency plan. All family members should know what to do in case of an emergency. Ready Army suggests families discuss issues such as where children will go if they are in school at the time of an emergency. While phone lines and cell phones may not work, text messaging sometimes works even if cell phone lines are overwhelmed with calls.
Families should ensure their plans include how they will evacuate family members with special needs, as well as pets. All members of a family should have an in-case-of-emergency point of contact in case they cannot reach each other. A trusted relative living outside of the area expected to be affected by the storm would be a good candidate. A local point of contact should also be established. These names and phone numbers should be programmed into all family member cell phones, and written copies should be with all family members as well.
EVALUATE THE RISK -- WATCH VERSUS WARNING
According to the NOAA, a hurricane watch means hurricane conditions -- sustained winds of 74 mph or higher -- are possible within a certain area. A hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of when the NOAA expects the onset of tropical-storm-force winds -- sustained winds of 39 to 73 mph.
The watch is issued well in advance of the storm so that families have time to prepare properly. Once the tropical-storm-force winds arrive, making final preparations could be difficult. Families should prepare in advance.
A hurricane warning also means hurricane conditions are expected within an area. However, it is issued 36 hours before the expected onset of tropical-storm-force winds.
HOW BAD IS BAD?
Families living in coastal areas may be vulnerable to storm surges, or storm tides. Ready Army defines a storm surge as a dome of water pushed ashore by winds during tropical storms and hurricanes. Storm surges can reach 25 feet high and be 50 to 1,000 miles wide. They define a storm tide as a combination of storm surge with normal tide, increasing the amount of water. For example, a 15-foot storm surge with a two-foot normal tide creates a 17-foot storm tide.
It is useful to know just how strong a hurricane will be when it reaches an area. Families in the path of a hurricane can learn from all weather sources what a storm's expected strength will be when it reaches their area. Hurricanes fall are rated by category from Category 1 thru Category 5.
Category 1 -- winds 74-95 mph, storm surge 4-5 feet, minimal damage to plants and signs
Category 2 -- winds 96-110 mph, storm surge 6-8 feet, some flooding, minimal damage to mobile homes, roofs, and small crafts
Category 3 -- winds 111-130 mph, storm surge 9-12 feet, extensive damage to small buildings and low-lying roofs
Category 4 -- winds 131-155 mph, storm surge 13-18 feet, extreme damage with destroyed roofs and mobile homes, downed trees, cut off roads and flooded homes
Category 5 -- winds exceeding 155 mph, storm surge over 18 feet, catastrophic damage
KNOW YOUR VULNERABILITIES
Families should find out if they live within an evacuation area. Because hurricanes can travel inland for hundreds of miles before losing their energy, people living inland in front of an approaching storm may still be at risk.
Families should know if their home or property is vulnerable to a storm surge (usually coastal areas), flooding from either rain or swollen rivers nearby, or wind. The most well-stocked disaster supply kit cannot help a family if it was stored in a basement that flooded.
PROTECT YOUR HOME
Families can take steps to minimize the damage caused to their home, and to protect themselves financially, should the storm damage their property. Families in coastal areas should consider flood insurance. According to Ready America, flood insurance is the only way for people to financially protect themselves should their homes or businesses be damaged by a flood.
Families can also take precautions to protect their homes from an impending hurricane, and to ensure decent quality of life in the aftermath of a storm. They should:
-- Cover all of your home's windows with pre-cut ply wood or hurricane shutters to protect your windows from high winds.
-- Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
-- Keep all trees and shrubs well trimmed so they are more wind resistant.
-- Secure your home by closing shutters, and securing outdoor objects or bringing them inside.
-- Turn off utilities as instructed. Otherwise, turn the refrigerator thermostat to its coldest setting and keep its doors closed.
-- Turn off propane tanks.
-- Install a generator for emergencies
-- Reinforce your garage doors; if wind enters a garage, it can cause dangerous and expensive structural damage.
-- Ensure a supply of water for sanitary purposes such as cleaning and flushing toilets. Fill the bathtub and other large containers with water.
-- Find out how to keep food safe during and after and emergency by visiting www.FoodSafety.gov.
BUILD A "BUG-OUT BAG"
When the order comes to evacuate, families should evacuate. It is possible that a family not in an area under evacuation order may still have to leave their home if it suffers an unexpectedly high amount of damage. In these situations, prepared families can grab their "bug-out bags" and make it to safe areas before less prepared people. This little bit of preparation can pay off in the quality of live a family has in the days following a disaster.
Various emergency and readiness resources suggest the following items be packed and ready to go BEFORE a storm hits:
Home emergency kit
-- Water -- at least one gallon per person per day for at least three days
-- Food -- nonperishable food for at least three days (select items that require no preparation, refrigeration or cooking such as high energy foods and ready-to-eat, canned meat, vegetables, fruit)
-- Manual can opener (if the food is canned), preferably on a multi-tool
-- Reusable plates, cups, utensils, saucepan (note, a metal bowl can double as a cup or plate)
-- First aid kit
-- Prescription medications and medical
-- Personal sanitation supplies, such as moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties
-- Hand-crank or battery operated flashlight
-- Hand-crank radio or battery operated cell phone charger
-- All-hazards NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio
-- Extra batteries at the size required
-- Cord to charge cell phone from AC outlet in vehicle
-- Brightly colored plastic poncho (can be used as shelter, clothing or a marker)
-- Weather appropriate clothing to keep your family warm and dry
-- Cash in case Point of Sale devices and Automatic-Teller Machines are offline
-- Any tools needed for turning off utilities
-- Local maps and your family emergency plan
-- Your command reporting information -- know the Army Disaster Personnel Accountability and
Assessment System (ADPAAS)
-- Important documents, including will, medical and financial power of attorney, property documents, medical instructions
-- Emergency preparedness handbook
-- Infant formula and diapers if you have young children
-- Pets supplies, including food, water, medication, leash, travel case and documents
-- Matches or flint in a waterproof container
-- Sleeping bag or other weather-appropriate bedding for each person
-- Coats, jackets and rain gear
-- Fire extinguisher
-- Paper and pencil
-- Books, games, puzzles, toys and other activities for children
-- Any items necessary for a specific type of disaster
Portable emergency kit -- take this kit with you when you are ordered to evacuate.
-- Place items in a designated area that will be easily accessible in the event of an emergency.
-- Make sure every member of your family knows where the kit is.
-- If you are required to shelter in place, keep this kit with you
-- Consider adding enough supplies to last two weeks
Workplace Emergency Kit -- this kit should be in one container to be kept at your work station in case you must evacuate from work.
-- Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes at your work place in case you have to walk long distances.
-- This kit should include at least food, water and a first aid kit.
-- Make sure you include your family's communications procedure.
Vehicle Emergency Kit
-- In the event that you are stranded while driving, keep this kit in your vehicle at all times.
-- This kit should contain at a minimum food, water, a first aid kit, signal flares, jumper cables and
seasonal clothing (coats, rain gear).
-- Make sure you include your family's communications procedure.
Families cannot stop mother nature from taking a swipe at where they live or work. However, by having a plan, knowing the risk, taking precautions, and preparing for the worse-case scenario, families can reduce the risk of getting hurt from a hurricane, having their homes damaged, or having their quality of life drastically affected, should a hurricane come through their area.
Prepared families can weather a storm well, even if local, state, or federal agencies can't help them immediately after a hurricane hits.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Ready Army at www.ready.army.mil
The American Red Cross at www.redcross.org
The Department of Homeland Security (Ready.gov) at www.ready.gov/america/makeaplan/index.html
The Federal Emergency Management Agency at www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/index.shtm