EMA: Be prepared for severe weather

COVINGTON -- In the wake of the death of a Forsyth man killed when heavy winds toppled a tree that landed on the SUV he was driving during recent severe storms, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the Newton County Emergency Management Agency are warning citizens to take weather warnings seriously and be prepared.

Though some situations can't be avoided, there are ways to protect yourself and your family when storms threaten, said Jody Nolan, deputy director of Newton EMA.

"A lot of people still have that, 'It won't happen to me,' mentality," Nolan said. But it's best to face the possibility before it happens and have an action plan in the event of a tornado or severe storm versus winging it in the moment, he said.

"These days the National Weather Service and the news media do a much better job of predicting severe weather. Sometimes they'll give two days notice that there's possible severe thunderstorms ... People just don't take heed to a lot of those warnings," Nolan said.

Tornado drills are becoming a thing of the past at workplaces and even when they do occur, many choose not to participate, he said. During a recent drill for employees at the Historic Courthouse, Judicial Center and Administration Building, 90 percent of those who participated were in a pre-designated area within five minutes, Nolan said. The problem is that many employees, though the drill was mandated, did not participate.

If an emergency were to occur, that could mean chaos if people aren't prepared and don't know where to go, he said. It also prohibits practice of accounting for all employees when they don't show up at designated area.

"If you're at a workplace that doesn't do drills regularly, you need to pick out places that would be safe for you," to take cover during severe weather, he said.

Acknowledging that, "You can't be in a safe location all the time," Nolan advised at least being prepared for the worst. For example, those with long commutes to work should scope out possible safe havens, such as fire or police stations, along their route where they could go if caught in bad weather, he said.

If in your vehicle when a tornado approaches, it's best to get out of the car -- "If a tornado touches down and it's an F1, your car becomes a Tinkertoy" -- and lie down in a ditch or low-lying area, he said.

"Most injuries and deaths occur from flying debris, not from being sucked up by the funnel itself," Nolan said.

If at home, get in an interior room, such as a hall or closet, and put pillows on top of yourself to protect yourself from flying debris, Nolan said. Take a cellphone in the room with you, or keep a deactivated cell phone there at all times -- Nolan said some deactivated cell phones will still call 911.

Families should make an emergency weather plan that includes a designated area for everyone to gather if severe weather strikes.

"Have a home safety plan. If kids have upstairs bedrooms, if severe weather is coming, move them downstairs to a more secure location. More often than not why people get hurt is that they don't have a plan," he said. For more information on how to make a home safety plan, visit ready.ga.gov.

Most importantly, stay informed, and don't ignore warnings, Nolan said. Check TV and radio stations that give regular weather updates, buy a weather radio and take advantage of mobile apps that provide weather warnings. It's even possible to plug in an entire route and be warned whenever tornados or severe weather is possible along that route, which could be especially helpful for commuters, Nolan said.

Here are some tips from GEMA on how to be better prepared for severe weather:

  • Familiarize yourself with the terms used to identify weather hazards: A thunderstorm or tornado watch means there is a possibility of a thunderstorm or tornado. A warning means one has been spotted.

  • Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.

  • Remember the 30/30 lightning safety rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.

  • Determine in advance where you will take shelter in case of a warning. Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection. If underground shelter is not available go to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor. Stay away from corners because they attract debris.

  • A vehicle is not good protection. Try to find a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area. Do not get under an over pass or bridge.

  • Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.

  • Shutter windows and secure outside doors.

  • Avoid showering or bathing during a storm. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures attract electricity.

  • Avoid tall, isolated trees in open areas; hilltops, open fields, the beach, boats on open water, isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas; and anything metal such as tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs and bicycles.