In the wake of a debilitating ice storm last month and on the one-year anniversary of a calamitous tornado, Columbia County Emergency Services begins the effort to educate the public on natural disaster preparedness for Severe Weather Awareness Week.
Held today through Saturday, Severe Weather Awareness Week is designated by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency to focus attention on how dangerous Mother Nature can be.
"The reason this week is always held at the end of February is because March, April and May are the predominant months when tornadoes occur in Georgia. However, we've seen them occur in other months," Columbia County Emergency Services Director Pam Tucker said. "Last year, it was Feb. 22, which, ironically, is the first day of Severe Weather Awareness Week this year."
Monday is Family Protection Day, and a statewide tornado drill will be held Wednesday - or in case of inclement weather, Friday.
"Monday is the day that everybody is supposed to develop their emergency disaster plans for their home or work," Tucker said. "They need to make sure they have all the supplies they need. It also lets them have time to see if they need any help."
The National Weather Service will initiate Wednesday's tornado drill. Schools, churches, businesses, industries and local governments are encouraged to participate.
Tucker is mass e-mailing tornado drill forms for people to fill out and turn in. The information will be used to gauge county residents' response to the mock crises.
Last year on this date, a 75-yard-wide F2 tornado wreaked havoc and damaged several homes on a 1-mile path extending from the Windmill Plantation subdivision to homes on Clanton Road in Evans.
The tornado caused $300,000 in property damage, but there were no fatal injuries. Tucker believes preparedness and awareness saved lives that day.
"That tornado came on the very last day of Severe Weather Awareness Week last year," Tucker reminded. "We did the drill, and there was a lot of publicity. Those people knew what to do. They were very luck nobody was hurt in that tornado. It always helps to have a plan and know what you're going to do."
For more information on severe weather preparedness, call Tucker's office at 868-3303, the GEMA at 1-800-TRY-GEMA, or visit GEMA's Web site at www.gema.state.ga.us and follow the links to "Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia" under Featured Issues.
Severe Weather Safety Tips from Columbia County's EMA office:
1. Locate the safest room in your home for your family to seek shelter during tornado warnings. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. A small, windowless room or closet on the lowest level is recommended.
2. Purchase a National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, weather alert radio so that you can be alerted to severe weather warnings night or day.
3. When building a new home, consider adding a protected safe room that will withstand wind speeds up to 250 mph. Or, consider retrofitting your existing home with a protected safe room. Plans for either of these options can be obtained from the Emergency Services Office.
4. Keep enough food and water in your home to last your family for up to three days. Store at least one gallon of water per person, per day, for a three-day period. And remember your pets. Also remember to replace your food and water every six months.
5. Have a battery-operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries on hand at all times.
6. Teach your children how and when to call 911.
7. Pick two meeting places for your family. A spot right outside your home for an emergency, such as a fire, and a place away from your neighborhood in case you cannot return home.
8. Learn disaster safety rules.
9. Practice your plan. Participate in the statewide tornado drill. Ask questions to make sure your family remembers meeting places, phone numbers, and safety rules. Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Test and recharge your fire extinguishers according to manufacturer's instructions.
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