Safety should be first concern in winter storm

COVINGTON -- Scouting's mantra is "Be Prepared," and public safety agencies are giving the same advice in regard to approaching winter weather. And, whether or not it snows in the next few days, with approximately 10 more weeks of winter to be endured, residents can't go wrong in giving a little forethought to what needs to be done to remain safe and warm.

With temperatures as cold as they've been the last several days, should precipitation fall, it will stick and make driving potentially hazardous.

Newton County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Mark Mitchell gives the following advice for driving safely on icy roads:

* Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.

* Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

* Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.

* Keep your lights and windshield clean.

* Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.

* Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.

* Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.

* Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.

* Don't assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

Jim Shuler of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety went straight to the point with his advice.

"If you don't have to go out in hazardous weather conditions, then stay home," he advised. "This isn't the blizzard of the century so save yourself unnecessary trips to stock up on beef jerky and flapjacks. Stay home where it's warm and you won't take a chance of crashing on icy roads or being stranded in the cold."

But, he acknowledged that sometimes driving is a necessity and he recommends a little forethought in case you are stranded.

"State troopers advise motorists who insist on driving in winter weather conditions to have a least a half tank of gas, carry a freshly charged cell phone, pack warm clothes and a blanket and have a working flashlight in their vehicle," he said. "Because once you're stranded during a severe weather episode, it may take emergency services a while to get to you due to the inclement conditions and the increased number of severe incidents that occur. So, slow down, buckle up and drive sober."

Snapping Shoals EMC's Leigh-Anne Burgess said should weather become so extreme power lines are damaged, there are several safety measures that should be followed in the case of fallen power lines.

"In instances of bad weather, we would like to remind our customers to stay away from downed power lines and call us immediately at 770-786-3484 to report such hazards," Burgess said.

She also offered the following critical rules for safety:

* Never touch a downed power line. Always assume that it is still energized and avoid any contact with it. Do not try to move it in any way.

* Do not touch a person that has come into contact with electricity or a fallen power line. Do not touch anything the person is touching. Call 911 immediately.

* If a power line falls on a vehicle that you are in, stay inside the vehicle if possible, and don't touch anything metallic. Wait until utility workers are able to de-energize the line and the scene is safe before exiting the vehicle. If there is an immediate danger, such as fire, and you must leave the vehicle, jump out so that your whole body leaves the vehicle at once and you are not contacting the vehicle and the ground at the same time. Keep away from the power line and its vehicle.

* Do not handle electric emergencies, even when you're wearing rubber gloves. Only pure rubber is an insulator and most household products are not pure rubber.