Be prepared
Emergency directors urge residents to be ready for severe weather

COVINGTON - If you've lived in Georgia very long, you know the weather can change moment-by-moment and the next four months can be especially volatile. Next week the folks at Covington/Newton County Emergency Management Agency are joining the National Weather Service in observing Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia and are urging residents to prepare themselves for weather emergencies.

Each day of the week from Sunday through Feb. 7 is dedicated to a specific aspect of weather safety with Sunday highlighting, "Family Preparedness Day."

"(It's) the perfect time for every family in Newton County to plan and rehearse what they should do during the first 72 hours of any severe weather-related event or disaster," said Covington/Newton County Director Tray Polk. "With a little time and effort, families can prepare for severe weather hazards affecting our area."

Deputy Director Jody Nolan pointed out that there are many residents who have not faced the rigors of prolonged power outages that are often the aftermath of severe weather.

"We're living more or less a life of convenience and people have forgotten about the possibilities what the weather could have in store for us," he said.

Last year's cycle of tornadoes, high winds and hail were a taste of the possible extremes that could leave citizens without power.

"It's not just tornadoes, but we're way overdue for an ice storm. There's actually a full generation, in some cases two generations, who haven't seen a 'good' ice storm," he said, recalling 1973 when power lines were down for an extended time due to ice and falling trees. "Since then, the population has increased to nearly 100,000. Back in '73, at a guess we had maybe 14,000 to 18,000. It's more important now than ever that people take steps to do some self-preparedness."

Nolan said many families don't have 72 hours of provisions in their home because current lifestyles don't routinely require it.

"In this day and time ... just because of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, one of the parents will stop by the grocery store on the way home to pick up a meal for that evening, or they just go out to eat," he said.

Canned goods and non-perishable food items that can feed a family for three days are essential components of preparedness.

Water is another essential because situations can develop when drinking water is not available by just turning on the tap, Nolan warned.

"For people with wells, if their power is out, their water is out," he said. "And there is also the possibility that during a tornadic event you may not have drinking water in your home because there may be a lift station out ... might not have electricity at the lift station. There might be some problems with sanitation of the water that could involve breaks at pump stations where you might have to boil water. Those people with gas can boil water to drink it, but others may have an electric stove and their power may be out."

Nolan said practically everybody has approximately 40 gallons of drinking water stored in their home, but usually don't realize it.

"You do have storage capacity in your home of drinking water, and that's in your hot water heater," he said. "In most homes you have 40 gallons, and there is a drain spigot at the bottom. If all else fails, you can get drinking water from your water heater."

He said if the water heater is elevated from the floor, it is easy to put a jug under the spigot to drain the water; if not, it would require a food service grade water hose.

Nolan said those who have food in freezers are usually set for a week without electricity before food begins to thaw, but the freezer should only be opened long enough to take an item out and closed immediately.

Another essential element to weather safety is a weather radio, Nolan said.

"That's just as important in your home as a smoke detector," he said. "You can pick one up now for about $20 and they're very reliable."

He said when weather radios were first introduced, they covered too large of a range of weather alerts, which meant they sounded an alarm in Covington when Rome or Macon was experiencing bad weather. They have now been perfected so that only weather-related events affecting specific areas are broadcast.

"Now there's an individual code that activates your weather radio in a particular area. That's a standard feature now," he said. "The frequency that works best in this area is 162.550 MHz, which is the Atlanta/Athens track."

Other items Nolan urged families to acquire is a first aid kit and to least reserve a three-day supply of life-sustaining prescription medication.

For more information on preparing for severe weather, visit www.gema.ga.gov, www.ready.ga.gov, www.srh.noaa.gov/fcc or www.redcross.org. The Covington/Newton EMA can be reached at 770-784-2127 or 678-342-5326. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency can be reached at 800-TRY-GEMA.

Barbara Knowles can be reached at barbara.knowles@newtoncitizen.com.

SideBar: Protect Your Family

Recommended steps to develop a family disaster plan:

Pick two places to meet - a spot outside your home for an emergency such as a fire and a place away from your neighborhood in case you cannot return home.

Choose an out-of-state friend as your "family check-in contact" for everyone to call if the family gets separated.

Discuss what you could do if advised to evacuate.

Post emergency telephone numbers by phones.

Install safety features in your house, such as a NOAA Weather Radio, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

Inspect your home for potential hazards such as items that can move, fall, break or catch fire and correct them.

Have family members learn basic safety measures such as CPR and first aid; how to use a fire extinguisher; and how and when to turn off water, gas and electricity in your home.

Teach children how and when to call 911.

Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your family's needs for at least three days.

Assemble an emergency preparedness kit with items you may need in case of an evacuation.

· Store those supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffel bags.

· Keep important family documents in a waterproof container.

· Keep a smaller disaster supplies kit in the trunk of your car.

· A disaster supplies kit should include a three-day supply of water (1 gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil; one change of clothing and footwear per person; one blanket or sleeping bag per person; a first aid kit (including prescription medicines); emergency tools (including a battery-powered NOAA weather radio and a portable radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries); an extra set of car keys and cash; and special items for an infant, the elderly or disabled family members.

Practice and maintain your plan, including conducting drills, testing equipment, changing batteries and rotating stored food and water every six months.

Source: Georgia Emergency Management Agency