There is no doubt that having a crystal ball to tell us what exactly what hazard is going to occur - and when it will occur - would come in handy. But lacking that, we have to stay prepared for emergencies around the clock. Our office has once again met and exceeded the criteria required by the National Weather Service to maintain our StormReady Community certification, which includes dozens of readiness criterion so that we can mitigate, prepare for, plan for, respond to, and recover from natural hazards.
To help our citizens also be ready, Severe Weather Awareness Week in Georgia will be observed this week and will feature special topics each day on NOAA alert radios, thunderstorm safety, tornado safety, lightning safety and flooding to assure that our citizens are prepared for severe weather hazards.
A statewide tornado drill will take place on Wednesday. All schools, businesses, county offices, day care centers, nursing homes, hospitals, etc., are asked to take this opportunity to test your preparedness actions on this day by holding drills to make sure your staff knows what to do in the event of a tornado.
Once again this year, the NOAA alert radios will only be activated as a regular weekly test instead of the special tornado message we've had in the past. When you hear the test, go ahead and move to safe areas. Most of the school radios are designed not to alert on the weekly test, so schools can identify whatever time they would like to initiate the drill. Everyone can clear up as soon as you finish your drill.
Also, since this is a normal, weekly test, the systems won't activate the Emergency Alert System via broadcast media as it has in the past.
Our most prevalent hazard last year was severe thunderstorms, which are storms that can produce tornadoes, hail, strong wind gusts and heavy rain. If a Severe Thunderstorm Warning is issued, it means that one or more of these events are actually occurring and protective actions should be taken.
This year the National Weather Service has increased the size of hail warranting a severe thunderstorm warning from ¾ inch or greater to 1 inch in diameter or greater, since research has shown that it takes at least 1 inch hail to begin to cause damage to a structure.
What will 2010 bring? Since we don't have that crystal ball, here are some things you can do to be prepared before severe weather threatens:
• Locate the safest room in your home for your family to seek shelter during severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A basement is the best place to seek safety, but lacking that, a small, windowless room or closet on the lowest level is recommended.
• Purchase a NOAA Alert Radio so that you can be alerted to severe weather warnings night or day, even if you lose power and phones.
• If someone in your family relies on electrical medical equipment, be sure to have enough back-up battery support for three days without power.
• Keep enough food and water in your home to last your family for at least three days. Store at least one gallon of water per person, per day, for a three-day period. And remember your pets. Remember to replace water every six months if you bottle it yourself. Water purchased at the store will have an expiration date.
• Have a battery operated radio and flashlights with extra batteries on hand at all times.
• 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.
• Check your homeowner's insurance policy and make sure you have property loss or damage coverage for all types of natural disasters.
• Learn disaster safety rules.
• Sign up with us for Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Storm Spotter courses. This free training will provide invaluable information on keeping your family safe.
For more information on disaster preparedness and how to keep your family safe, contact the Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division at (706) 868-3303 or you can e-mail us at emergencymanagement@columbia countyga.gov or go to www.columbia countyga.gov.
(Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency and Operations Division.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.