Emergency Management

WELCOME TO THE OFFICE OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT


The City of Fountain Office of Emergency Management (OEM) provides coordination and support of activities relating to disaster prevention, preparedness, response and recovery to protect the lives of the citizens in our City.

THE INCIDENT COMMAND SYSTEM (ICS):

  • Is a standardized management tool for meeting the demands of small or large emergency or non-emergency situations.
  • Represents "best practices" and has become the standard for emergency management across the country.
  • May be used for planned events, natural disasters, and acts of terrorism. Is a key feature of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

The ICS is a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure, designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management. A basic premise of ICS is that it is widely applicable. It is used to organize both near-term and long-term field-level operations for a broad spectrum of emergencies, from small to complex incidents, both natural and man made. ICS is used by all levels of government—Federal, State, local, and tribal—as well as by many private-sector and nongovernmental organizations. ICS is also applicable across disciplines. It is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration.

Flooding

Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters in terms of human hardship and economic loss. Flooding in CreekAs much as 90 percent of the damage related to all natural disasters (excluding droughts) is caused by floods and associated debris flows. Most communities in the United States can experience some kind of flooding. Over the 10-year period from 1988 to 1997, floods cost the Nation, on average, $3.7 billion annually. The long-term (1940 to 1999) annual average of lives lost is 110 per year, mostly as a result of flash floods.

What Causes Floods?

Flooding occurs in known floodplains when prolonged rainfall over several days, intense rainfall over a short period of time, or an ice or debris jam causes a river or stream to overflow and flood the surrounding area. Melting snow can combine with rain in the winter and early spring; severe thunderstorms can bring heavy rain in the spring and summer; or tropical cyclones can bring intense rainfall to the coastal and inland states in the summer and fall.

Flash floods occur within six hours of a rain event, or after a dam or levee failure, or following a sudden release of water held by an ice or debris jam, and flash floods can catch people unprepared. You will not always have a warning that these deadly, sudden floods are coming. So if you live in areas prone to flash floods, plan now to protect your family and property.

As land is converted from fields or woodlands to roads and parking lots, it loses its ability to absorb rainfall. Urbanization increases runoff two to six times over what would occur on natural terrain. During periods of urban flooding, streets can become swift moving rivers, while basements and viaducts can become death traps as they fill with water.

Several factors contribute to flooding. Two key elements are rainfall intensity and duration. Intensity is the rate of rainfall, and duration is how long the rain lasts. Topography, soil conditions, and ground cover also play important roles. Most flash flooding is caused by slow-moving thunderstorms, thunderstorms repeatedly moving over the same area, or heavy rains from hurricanes and tropical storms. Floods, on the other hand, can be slow- or fast-rising, but generally develop over a period of hours or days.

Learn about flooding and flash flooding in your area by contacting the local emergency management office, National Weather Service (NWS)office, your American Red Cross chapter, or your planning and zoning department. If you are at risk, take steps to reduce damage and the risk of injury or loss to your family.

Awareness Information

Know the difference between WATCHES and WARNINGS.

  • A National Weather Service (NWS) WATCH is a message indicating that conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather. For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that a severe thunderstorm is expected in the next six hours or so within an area approximately 120 to 150 miles wide and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square miles). The NWS Storm Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast offices issue other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to 36 hours in advance of a possible hazardous-weather or flooding event. Each local forecast office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.
  • An NWS WARNING indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices issue warnings on a county-by-county basis.


Many
more WATCHES are issued than WARNINGS. A WATCH is the first sign a flood may occur, and when one is issued, you should be aware of potential flood hazards.

Creek FloodingBe aware of flood hazards. Floods can roll boulders, tear out trees, destroy buildings and bridges, and scour out new channels. Flood waters can reach heights of 10 to 20 feet and often carry a deadly cargo of debris. Flood-producing rains can also trigger catastrophic debris slides.

Regardless of how a flood or flash flood occurs, the rule for being safe is simple: head for higher ground and stay away from flood waters. Even a shallow depth of fast-moving flood water produces more force than most people imagine. The most dangerous thing you can do is to try walking, swimming, or driving through flood waters. Two feet of water will carry away most automobiles.

Plan for a Flood

  • Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" section for general family planning information. Develop flood- specific planning. Learn about your area's flood risk and elevation above flood stage.
  • Contact your local Red Cross chapter, emergency management office, local National Weather Service office, or planning and zoning department about your area's flood risk.
  • Knowing the elevation of your property in relation to nearby streams and dams will let you know if forecasted flood levels will affect your home.

If you are at risk from floods:

  • Talk to your insurance agent. Homeowners' policies do not cover flooding. Ask about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
  • Use a NOAA Weather Radio with a tone-alert feature, or a portable, battery-powered radio (or television) for updated emergency information.
  • Develop an evacuation plan. (See "Evacuation" in the "Family Disaster Plan" section.) Everyone in your family should know where to go if they have to leave. Trying to make plans at the last minute can be upsetting and create confusion.
  • Discuss floods with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing floods ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond.

 

Heat

Heat can kill by pushing the human body beyond its limits. Under normal conditions, the body's internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. However, in extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Elderly people, young children, and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to become victims of extreme heat. Because men sweat more than women, they are more susceptible to heat illness because they become more quickly dehydrated.

The duration of excessive heat plays an important role in how people are affected by a heat wave. Studies have shown that a significant rise in heat-related illnesses happens when excessive heat lasts more than two days. Spending at least two hours per day in air conditioning significantly cuts down on the number of heat-related illnesses.

What is Extreme Heat?

The parameters of an extreme heat watch, warning, or advisory can vary by location. Generally, temperatures that hover 10 degrees or more above the average high temperature for the region, last for prolonged periods of time, and are often accompanied by high humidity, that the body cannot tolerate are defined as extreme heat. A heat wave is a very dangerous situation.

People living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than people living in rural regions. An increased health problem, especially for those with respiratory difficulties, can occur when stagnant atmospheric conditions trap pollutants in urban areas, thus adding unhealthy air to excessively hot temperatures. In addition, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually releases heat at night, which produces significantly higher nighttime temperatures in urban areas known as the "urban heat island effect."

Learn about the risk of extreme heat in your area by contacting your local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter.

Awareness Information

Know these terms:

  • Heat wave: Prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity. The National Weather Service steps up its procedures to alert the public during these periods when it anticipates an increase in human heat-related illnesses.
  • Heat index: A number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that tells how hot it really feels when relative humidity is added to the actual air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.
  • Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
  • Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim's condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.
  • Heat stroke: Heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.
  • Sunstroke: Another term for heat stroke.

Watch for Signals

  • Heat exhaustion: Cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin; heavy sweating; headache; nausea or vomiting; dizziness; and exhaustion. Body temperature may be normal, or is likely to be rising.
  • Heat stroke: Hot, red skin; changes in consciousness; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid, shallow breathing. Body temperature can be very high -sometimes as high as 105 degrees F. If the person was sweating from heavy work or exercise, skin may be wet; otherwise, it will feel dry.

How to Treat a Heat Emergency

  • Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation. Help is needed fast. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body. Immerse victim in a cool bath, or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signals of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you can. If the victim refuses water, is vomiting, or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.
  • Heat cramps: Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them, as they can cause further dehydration, making conditions worse.
  • Heat exhaustion: Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Let the victim rest in a comfortable position, and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.

Plan for Extreme Heat

Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" section for general family planning information. Revisit your family disaster plan before summer heat is expected. Extreme heat- specific planning should include the following:

Learn what heat hazards may occur where you are and learn how to plan for extreme heat should it occur in your area. Different areas have different risks associated with prolonged heat. Contact your local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter for information.

If you are at risk from extreme heat:

  • If your home does not have air conditioning, choose other places you go to get relief from the heat during the warmest part of the day. Schools, libraries, theaters and other community facilities often provide air-conditioned refuge on the hottest days. Air conditioning provides the safest escape from extreme heat. During the 1995 Midwest heat wave, most deaths happened to people not in air conditioned locations.
  • Plan changes in your daily activities to avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Ill effects of heat can quickly overcome the healthiest people, if they perform strenuous work during the warmest parts of the day. Symptoms of dehydration are not easily recognized and are often confused with other causes. Dehydration occurs fast and makes you ill very quickly.
  • Some family members may be taking medications or have medical conditions that may cause poor blood circulation or reduced ability to tolerate heat. Discuss these concerns with a physician. A physician can advise you about changes to medication or other activities you can do to temporarily relieve the effects of heat.
  • Plan to check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning or who spend much of their time alone. Elderly persons who live alone or with a working relative might need assistance on hot days. The majority of deaths during the 1995 Midwest heat wave were persons who were alone.
  • Plan to wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away the sun's rays more than dark colors, which absorb the sun's rays.
  • Get training. Take an American Red Cross first aid course to learn how to treat heat emergencies and other emergencies. Everyone should know how to respond, because the effects of heat can happen very quickly.
  • Discuss extreme heat wave with your family. Everyone should know what to do in the places where they spend time. Some places may not be air conditioned or safe during a heat wave, so plan alternatives. Discussing extreme heat ahead of time will help reduce fear and anxiety, and lets everyone know how to respond.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit

Please see the section "Disaster Supplies Kit" for general supplies kit information. Extreme heat-specific supplies should include the following:

  • Additional water
  • Disaster Suplies Kit basics.

Protect Your Property

  • Install window air conditioners snugly. Insulate spaces around air conditioners for a tighter fit. An air conditioner with a tight fit around the windows or wall openings will make less noise and allow less hot air in from the outside.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. This will help you to conserve electricity and reduce your home's power demands for air conditioning. Weather-strip doors and windowsills to keep cool air inside, allowing the inside temperature to stay cooler longer.
  • During a drought, conserve water by placing a brick, or another large solid object, in your toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used in flushing.
  • Consider keeping storm windows installed throughout the year. Storm windows can keep the heat out of a house in the summer the same way they keep the cold out in the winter.
  • Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation. Insulation around ducts prevents cool air from leaking and keeps it directed through the vents.
  • Protect windows. Hang shades, draperies, awnings, or louvers on windows that receive morning or afternoon sun. Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat entering the house by as much as 80 percent.
  • Use attic fans. If you have a fan installed to vent warm air out of your attic, use the fan to help keep your home cool.

Media and Community Education Ideas

  • Publish a special newspaper section with emergency information on extreme heat. Localize the information by including the phone numbers of local emergency services offices, the American Red Cross chapter, and local hospitals.
  • Interview local physicians about the dangers of sunburn, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and other possible conditions caused by excessive heat.
  • During a drought, run a series of programs suggesting ways that individuals can conserve water and energy in their homes and their workplaces.
  • Interview local officials and representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture about special steps farmers can take to establish alternative water supplies for their crops and ways to protect livestock and poultry from the effects of extreme heat.
  • Sponsor a "Helping Your Neighbors" program through your local school system to encourage children to think of those persons who require special assistance during severe weather conditions, such as elderly people, infants, or people with disabilities.
  • Arrange for air-conditioned shelters to be opened when necessary for community members who do not have air conditioning at home.
  • Arrange for special programs to provide air conditioners to vulnerable people in their homes.

What to Do During Extreme Heat

  • Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities. High-risk individuals should stay in cool places. Get plenty of rest to allow your natural "cooling system" to work. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. Many heat emergencies are experienced by people exercising or working during the hottest part of the day.
  • Avoid too much sunshine. Sunburn slows the skin's ability to cool itself. The sun will also heat the inner core of your body, resulting in dehydration. Use a sunscreen lotion with a high sun protection factor (SPF) rating.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities. Extreme heat can threaten the health of athletes, staff, and spectators of outdoor games and activities.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes. A cool shower immediately after coming in from hot temperatures can result in hypothermia, particularly for elderly and very young people.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine. Even in the warmest weather, staying indoors, out of sunshine, is safer than long periods of exposure to the sun.
  • Keep heat outside and cool air inside. Close any registers that may allow heat inside. Install temporary reflectors, such as aluminum foil covered cardboard, in windows and skylights to reflect heat back outside.
  • Conserve electricity not needed to keep you cool. During periods of extreme heat, people tend to use a lot more power for air conditioning. Conserve electricity not used to keep you cool so power can remain available and reduce the chance of a community wide outage.
  • Vacuum air conditioner filters weekly during periods of high use. Air conditioner filters can become clogged or filled with dirt, making them less efficient. Keeping them clean will allow your air conditioner to provide more cool air.
  • If your home does not have air conditioning, go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Air conditioned locations are the safest places during extreme heat because electric fans do not cool the air. Fans do help sweat evaporate, which gives a cooling effect.
  • Dress appropriately:
    • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing that will cover as much skin as possible. Lightweight, light-colored clothing reflects heat and sunlight and helps maintain normal body temperature. Cover as much skin as possible to avoid sunburn and over-warming effects of sunlight on your body.
    • Protect face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat. A hat will keep direct sunlight off your head and face. Sunlight can burn and warm the inner core of your body.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty. Injury and death can occur from dehydration, which can happen quickly and unnoticed. Symptoms of dehydration are often confused with other causes. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; who are on fluid-restrictive diets; or who have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
  • Take frequent breaks if you must work outdoors. Frequent breaks, especially in a cool area or to drink fluids, can help people tolerate heat better.
  • Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat. Partners can keep an eye on each other and can assist each other when needed. Sometimes exposure to heat can cloud judgment. Chances are if you work alone, you may not notice this.
  • Drink plenty of water regularly and often. Your body needs water to keep cool. Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies.
  • Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat's effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, which actually dehydrates the body.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Large, heavy meals are more difficult to digest and cause your body to increase internal heat to aid digestion, worsening overall conditions. Avoid foods that are high in protein, such as meats and nuts, which increase metabolic heat.
  • Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician. Salt causes the body to retain fluids, resulting in swelling. Salt affects areas of your body that help you sweat, which would keep you cool. Persons on salt-restrictive diets should check with a physician before increasing salt intake.
  • NEVER leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles. Temperatures inside a closed vehicle can reach over 140 degrees F within minutes. Exposure to such high temperatures can kill in minutes.

Tornadoes

Tornadoes have been reported in every state, and though they generally occur during spring and summer, they can happen any time of the year. While tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night, they are most likely to occur between 3:00 and 9:00 p.m. There are no areas immune to tornadoes; they have been reported in mountains and valleys, over deserts and swamps, from the Gulf Coast into Canada, in Hawaii and even Alaska. Regardless of the location or time of year, if conditions are right, a tornado can happen. Over 1,000 tornadoes are reported annually nationwide, and as our tornado detection systems improve, more are being reported each year. However, sometimes tornadoes will develop in areas in which no tornado watch or warning is in effect, so stay alert for changing weather conditions.

What Are Tornadoes, and What Causes Them?

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground. The most violent tornadoes have rotating winds of 250 miles per hour or more. They are capable of causing extreme destruction, including uprooting trees and well-made structures, and turning normally harmless objects into deadly missiles. Most tornadoes are just a few dozen yards wide and only briefly touch down, but highly destructive violent tornadoes may carve out paths over a mile wide and more than 50 miles long. Although violent tornadoes comprise only 2 percent of all tornadoes, they are responsible for nearly 70 percent of tornado-related fatalities.

Tornadoes develop from severe thunderstorms in warm, moist, unstable air along and ahead of cold fronts. Such thunderstorms also may generate large hail and damaging winds. When intense springtime storm systems produce large, persistent areas that support tornado development, major outbreaks can occur. During the late spring, tornadic thunderstorms can develop in the southern High Plains along a "dry line," the interface between warm, moist air to the east and hot, dry air to the west. From the front range of the Rocky Mountains southward into the Texas Panhandle, slope flow of unstable air can cause tornadic thunderstorms to develop. While generally smaller and not as frequent, tornadoes occurring west of the Rocky Mountains of the United States also cause damage and threaten lives annually.

Landfalling tropical storms and hurricanes also generate tornadoes. Such tornadoes are most common to the right and ahead of the storm path or the storm center as it comes ashore. In 1967, Hurricane Beulah produced 148 tornadoes as it made landfall in south Texas.

While tornadoes can be highly destructive and are potentially deadly, timely precautions can save lives and reduce property damage. During active weather, stay alert of the forecast by listening to radio or television or by using a NOAA Weather Radio. Contact your local National Weather Service (NWS) office, emergency management agency, or American Red Cross chapter for more information about your risk from tornadoes.

Awareness Information

A National Weather Service WATCH is a message indicating that conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather. For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that a severe thunderstorm is expected in the next six hours or so within an area approximately 120 to 150 miles wide and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square miles). The NWS Storm Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast offices issue other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to 36 hours in advance of a possible hazardous-weather or flooding event. Each local forecast office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.

An NWS WARNING indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices issue warnings on a county-by-county basis.

  • Tornadoes may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up. Stay alert for high winds even if you do not "see" a tornado.
  • Tornadoes often occur when it is not raining. In fact, in the Great Plains and other semiarid regions, that scenario is the rule rather than the exception. Tornadoes are associated with a powerful updraft, so rain does not fall in or next to a tornado. Very large hail, however, does fall in the immediate area of the tornado. In humid environments, rain often tends to wrap around the tornado, being pulled from the main precipitation area around the outside of the rotating updraft. The rain could make it difficult to see the tornado.
  • Waterspouts are weak tornadoes that form over warm water and are most common along the Gulf Coast and southeastern states. In the western United States, waterspouts occur with cold late fall or late winter storms, during a time when you least expect tornado development. Waterspouts, which are tornadoes over a body of water, occasionally move inland becoming tornadoes and causing damage and injuries.
  • Damage happens when wind gets inside a home through a broken window, door, or damaged roof. Keep windows closed. Houses do not explode due to air pressure differences. Stay away from windows during severe storms. Flying debris could shatter the glass and cause injury.
  • It used to be advised to go to the southwest corner for safety; however, the southwest corner of a house is no safer than any other corner. Historical information has shown that any corner on the lowest level away from windows is as safe as any other corner. If tornado winds enter the room, debris has a tendency to collect in corners. When selecting a tornado "safe place," look for a place on the lowest level and away from windows, preferably in a small room (closet or bathroom) in the center of the house. Closer walls will help provide more support to the roof, and each wall between you and the outside will provide further protection.
  • Folklore passed down through the generations used to advise opening windows in case of a tornado because air pressure differences would cause a house to explode. This information is not true. Air pressure differences in a tornado are not strong enough to cause a house to explode; houses are damaged by the violent winds associated with a tornado and from the debris blown at high velocities by tornado winds.
  • Folklore also used to advise that if you are driving and a tornado is suspected or sighted, you should turn and drive at right angles to the storm. This advice is not recommended because tornadoes do not necessarily travel in straight lines; you cannot always tell the direction the storm is coming from; the road you turn onto may curve and head into the storm, rather than away from it; and there may be more than one tornado associated with a strong storm system, but you may not see it because visibility is diminished by heavy rain and wind-blown debris. The safest thing to do is go to a nearby sturdy building and go inside to an area on the lowest level, without windows. If a sturdy building is not available, then get out of the vehicle and lay down in a low spot on the ground not subject to flooding, protecting the head and neck

Plan for a Tornado

Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" section for general family planning information. Tornado-specific planning should include the following:

  • Learn about your tornado risk. While severe tornadoes are more frequent in the Plains States, tornadoes have happened in every state. Contact your local emergency management office, local National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter for more information on tornadoes.
  • Pick a safe place in your home where family members could gather during a tornado. The safest place to be is underground, or as low to the ground as possible, and away from all windows. If you have a basement, make it your safe place. If you do not have a basement, consider an interior hallway or room on the lowest floor. Putting as many walls as you can between you and the outside will provide additional protection. Less than 2 percent of all tornadoes are powerful enough to completely destroy a sturdy building. Make sure there are no windows or glass doors in your safe place and keep this place uncluttered.
  • Consider having your tornado safe place reinforced. Additional reinforcement will add more protection from the damaging effects of tornado winds. Get more information from FEMA about building a tornado safe room. (See "Resources" section.)
  • If you are in a high-rise building, pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building. You may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor. Center hallways are often structurally the most reinforced part of a building.
  • If you live in a mobile home, choose a safe place in a nearby sturdy building. A sturdy building provides greater protection. If your mobile home park has a designated shelter, make it your safe place. Mobile homes are much more vulnerable to strong winds than site-built structures. Prior to 1994, most manufactured homes were not designed to withstand even moderate winds.
  • Discuss how you would be warned of an approaching tornado. Different communities have different ways of providing warnings. Many communities have sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes. Use a NOAA Weather Radio with a tone-alert feature to keep you aware of watches and warnings while you are indoors. Learn about your community's warning system. Make sure all family members know the name of the county or parish where you live or are traveling, because tornado watches and warnings are issued for a county or parish by name.
  • Learn about your community's warning system. Different communities have different ways of providing warnings. Many communities have sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes. Use a NOAA Weather Radio with a tone-alert feature to keep you aware of watches and warnings while you are indoors.
  • Conduct periodic tornado drills, so everyone remembers what to do when a tornado is approaching. Practice having everyone in the family go to your designated area in response to a tornado threat. Practicing your plan makes the appropriate response more of a reaction, requiring less thinking time during an actual emergency situation.
  • Check with your work and your children's schools and day care centers to learn tornado emergency plans. Every building has different safe places. It is important to know where they are and how to get there in an emergency.
  • Discuss tornadoes with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing disaster ahead of time helps reduce fear and lets everyone know how to respond during a tornado.

Winter Storms

A major winter storm can last for several days and be accompanied byhigh winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall, and cold temperatures. People can become trapped at home, without utilities or other services. Heavy snowfall and blizzards can trap motorists in their cars. Attempting to walk for help in a blizzard can be a deadly decision.

Winter storms can make driving and walking extremely hazardous. The aftermath of a winter storm can have an impact on a community or region for days, weeks, or even months. Storm effects such as extremely cold temperatures and snow accumulation, and sometimes coastal flooding, can cause hazardous conditions and hidden problems for people in the affected area.

What Are Winter Storms, and What Causes Them?

A winter storm can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow that lasts several days. Some winter storms may be large enough to affect several states, while others may affect only a single community. Many winter storms are accompanied by low temperatures and heavy and/or blowing snow, which can severely reduce visibility.

Winter storms can be defined differently in various parts of the country. Heavy snow in the south can be a dusting in the mountains. Check with your local emergency management office, National Weather Service (NWS) office, or local American Red Cross for terms and definitions specific to your area. Sleet is raindrops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects; however, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists. Freezing rain is rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing; this causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars, and roads, forming a glaze of ice. Even small accumulations of ice can cause a significant hazard. An ice storm occurs when freezing rain falls and freezes immediately on impact; communications and power can be disrupted for days, and even small accumulations of ice may cause extreme hazards to motorists and pedestrians.

Learn about winter storm risk in your area. Contact your local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter for more information.

Awareness Information

Know what winter storm and blizzard WATCHES and WARNINGS mean.

  • A National Weather Service (NWS) WATCH is a message indicating that conditions favor the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather. For example, a severe thunderstorm watch means that a severe thunderstorm is expected in the next six hours or so within an area approximately 120 to 150 miles wide and 300 to 400 miles long (36,000 to 60,000 square miles). The NWS Storm Prediction Center issues such watches. Local NWS forecast offices issue other watches (flash flood, winter weather, etc.) 12 to 36 hours in advance of a possible hazardous- weather or flooding event. Each local forecast office usually covers a state or a portion of a state.
  • An NWS WARNING indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in about 30 minutes to an hour. Local NWS forecast offices issue warnings on a county-by- county basis. 
  • A winter storm WATCH means a winter storm is possible in your area. 
  • A winter storm WARNING means a winter storm is occurring, or will soon occur, in your area.
  • A blizzard WARNING means sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer. 

Winter storms are considered deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. 

The leading cause of death during winter storms is from automobile or other transportation accidents. Exhaustion and heart attacks caused by overexertion are the two most likely causes of winter storm-related deaths. Elderly people account for the largest percentage of hypothermia victims. Many older Americans literally "freeze to death" in their own homes after being exposed to dangerously cold indoor temperatures, or are asphyxiated because of improper use of fuels such as charcoal briquettes, which produce carbon monoxide. 

House fires occur more frequently in the winter due to lack of proper safety precautions when using alternate heating sources (unattended fires, disposal of ashes too soon, improperly placed space heaters, etc.). Fire during winter storms presents a great danger because water supplies may freeze and it may be difficult for firefighting equipment to get to the fire.

Plan for a Winter Storm

Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" section for general family planning information. Develop a winter storm specific plan. Learn about your area's winter storm risk. Different areas have different risks associated with winter storms. Contact your local Red Cross chapter, emergency management office, or local National Weather Service office about your area's winter storm risk.

If you are at risk from winter storms:

  • Understand the hazards of wind chill, which combines the cooling effect of wind and cold temperatures on exposed skin. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from a person's body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. "Wind chill" is a calculation of how cold it feels when the effects of wind speed and temperature are combined. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature about 35 degrees colder. 
  • Service snow removal equipment before winter storm season. Equipment should be available for use if needed. Maintain it in good working order. 
  • Keep your car's gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing. 
  • Get training. Take an American Red Cross first aid course to learn how to treat exposure to the cold, frostbite, and hypothermia. 
  • Discuss with your family what to do if a winter storm WATCH or WARNING is issued. Designate one household member as the winter storm preparedness leader. Have him or her discuss what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued. Have another household member state what he or she would do if caught outside or in a vehicle during a winter storm. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing winter storms ahead of time helps reduce fear and lets everyone know how to respond during a winter storm.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit

Please see the section "Disaster Supplies Kit" for general supplies kit information. Winter Storm-specific supplies should include the following:

  • A warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat and water-resistant boots for each member of the family. 
  • Extra blankets and warm clothing. 
  • Nonclumping kitty litter. Kitty litter will generate temporary  traction. Rock salt will melt ice on walkways but can damage vegetation and concrete. Other, less damaging, ice melting products are available from building supply stores. 
  • Disaster Supplies Kit basics.

Incident Command System

The following links will give you an over view of the Incident Command System and the National Incident Management System. These trainings are brief and will take about as long as drinking a couple of cups of coffee.