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Winter survival: Are you ready?

By Ron Dodson
Meade County Emergency
Management Agency

The recent ice and snow storms out to our west left roads hazardous and many without power and phone service for extended periods of time. During times like these, road and utility crews do their best to combat the elements and restore our infrastructure as quickly as possible. Emergency responders (police, fire and EMS) also continue to serve when conditions are less than favorable. In spite of all of these combined response efforts to overcome Mother Nature, the best response begins at home.

Later this winter, should we face similar threats: What do you need that you do not have in terms of nonperishable food or water? Do you have an adequate means of temporary lighting if your power failed? How about sufficient supplies of blankets and other winter needs?

Do you have an auxiliary heat source? If so, is everyone informed on the safe use of it and do you have a carbon monoxide alarm, to tell you if CO levels are getting too high? More than 100 people died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the recent storm from improper use of heaters and portable generators in and around their homes! “We’re dealing with a carbon-monoxide epidemic in western Washington,” said Dr. Neil Hampson of Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center, which treated more than 55 people in its hyperbaric chamber, where pressure is used to force oxygen into the blood.

If a small fire occurs in your home, are fire extinguishers handy and would all older family members know how to use them properly? What about basic first aid? Have family members had even basic CPR or first-aid training? Lastly, do you have some means of keeping informed such as portable radios or TVs that work without AC power? If you answered “no” to any of the above, write down the negatively answered questions and what was missing that made it a “no” answer.

What you now have before you is a rough critique of the success (or failure) of your family’s disaster preparedness planning efforts up to now. For every “yes” you gave, congratulate yourself on being somewhat prepared. For every “no” on your list, consider adding the items you don’t have to your disaster preparedness supplies. If you came up short in the understanding of how to use items like heaters, CO detectors or fire extinguishers, read the instructions again or ask someone qualified to explain further and answer questions for you. Did you answer “no” to the CPR and first-aid question? Perhaps you need to locate a class being held in the near future. Contact the American Red Cross or American Heart Association.

Ice storms are not really any different from snow storms, summer storms or earthquakes in that services we take for granted daily are usually disrupted for uncertain lengths of time. They do create special problems in that they make driving even more hazardous than in snow. Vehicles do not respond well on ice! Regardless of tire chains or studded tires, ice can severely impair your ability to steer even if you can move. When roads are icy, the best thing to do is to stay off of them. Traffic tie-ups only create more problems and hazards that prevent emergency crews from restoring services, responding to emergency calls and clearing roadways.

The issue of heat shelters always comes up during ice storms. In cities, people are concentrated within short distances of many places. Heat shelters can frequently be used in cities during outage situations, as they are often within walking distance of homes. Exposure to the cold is limited and traffic is kept minimal on streets. In rural areas, such as ours, it may be a totally different thing altogether. Here in the country, if roads are nearly impassable from ice or large snowfalls, how are you going to get to a “heat shelter?” Even if a shelter were open, it would more than likely be located several miles from your home. Likewise, what if the “heat shelter” loses its utilities? Not many large buildings in Meade County are currently equipped with backup power generators.

If you are prepared to provide a means of safe, short term heat in your home while power is off, you eliminate two problems: You are staying off the roadways. (This alone will lessen accident chances.) You are also warming your home, thus preventing plumbing from freezing and bursting if temperatures drop very low. Granted, some of our fire departments may be capable of coming to get you if absolutely necessary; however, what if they received a call for a house fire or medical emergency while they are taking you to a shelter? Now, their manpower and emergency equipment is reduced because they are relaying you to a shelter instead of responding to the crisis. Once power is restored, you still have to find a way to get back home and face those water lines broken by freezing up! A little preparedness beforehand can go a long way in an emergency. This brings out the importance of keeping up with current weather forecasts during winter months. Anyone out west listening to the media or the weather service forecasts knew days in advance that this severe weather system was coming. Once warned, they had plenty of time to acquire any last minute items well before the first of the ice fell.

The three-month outlook from the National Weather Service does call for a warmer than average winter in this area. However, cold periods such as the one in early December remain possible as does the accumulation of snow and ice for periods of time. Preparing now can save a lot of trouble later. Besides, it is not a waste. Spring storm season is not that far away. You may need those disaster supplies come the thaw!

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