Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Severe Weather Preparedness Week

Yep, it is.  Please take a moment to read up, make a plan, and prepare your family.

I wish I had read THIS last year.

There are a lot of things that we had done.  We were pretty well prepared, especially for people that didn't really think we would be hit by a tornado (or anything else). We had a designated safe room (basement bathroom under the stairs... stairs are a reinforced structure).  We had gone to Cabela's and gotten a water storage container, first aid kit, LED laterns, a 72 hour kit, and some extra supplies to round everything out to cover all four of us.  We knew to get everyone in boots, and bike helmets.  When you go through the site you'll discover that most injuries happen AFTER an event, stepping on nails is a big one!  Also a lot of injuries come from flying debris.  The helmets might seem overboard, but a kid actually survived a tornado when he was hit in the head by a flying toilet because he was taught in school to put a helmet on.  It's actually a good idea to cover everyone up in a comforter or under a mattress (bike helmets seems a bit easier than managing that!) if a tornado is headed your way, to help protect you from flying debris.

But there are very important things that I did not know.  I did not know how to turn off our gas... I really wish that I had known how to do that.  I was very worried about an explosion after the tornado hit.  I heard a loud boom from somewhere down the block, then worried that it wasn't safe to stay in our house with the gas on, but didn't think it was safe to stay outside with the trees down & the lightning, etc.  Next time, I would absolutely shut off our electric and gas ASAP.  When you are planning, remember you might be alone!  Everyone needs to know how to do everything... Sure, Mr F knows how to do all of that, it just never occurred to me that I would need to know, too.  And that's how things played out.  And for the record, lots of kids were home from school, with their parents still at work when it hit.  If that is your situation, do your kids know everything they need to know?

We also didn't have a weather radio... we just got a NOAA weather radio from REI that comes on automatically when there is a severe weather alert.  This alert will sound even before the tornado sirens and we can unplug it (it has reserve batteries) and take it down with us so that we know exactly what is going on and when it is safe to come back up.  This would have been helpful to have had at the time (could be lifesaving).  I had heard the sirens and had gone to the basement but I didn't know when the storm was over (we'd lost power) and I came upstairs RIGHT BEFORE the tornado hit the house.  I was very lucky that I got downstairs in time.  I now know, that the tornado actually lifted up the roof directly over where I had been standing in the kitchen just a moment (literally) after I got out of there.  It stills haunts me that I might have made a much bigger mistake, like letting the kids come back up, or going outside to check the sky.

And with that in mind, remember that you will very likely lose power, so be sure you have accounted for that.  Insurance papers a really hard to find IN THE DARK... especially when you never really filed anything since you moved in (oh is that just me?!... trust me, it's done now!).  I'm now going to make copies of that important paperwork and keep it in a waterproof bag in our 72 hour kit. I'm also putting an extra pair of long pants, underwear, socks, and a pair of gardening or work gloves for everyone in a an extra bag to keep in there.  If a tornado hits after you've put kids to bed, they might be in pjs (you might be!) and you'll need some back up clothes on hand (especially if your 2nd story just blew off.. and I wish I was joking... if we didn't have a ranch that may VERY WELL have been the end result).  Do not take the time to find these things after you hear the siren, go immediately to your safe area and stay there!  This is about preparedeness... not last minuteness.

 If you have space, think about storing the things that would be helpful (think camping goods, out of season clothes, etc) near your safe area, if not in it.  Remember you don't really want a ton of stuff in your safe area that could become flying objects in the event of a tornado.  If the power is out, but you know that all of your sleeping bags, rain gear, or whatever else is within easy reach, that makes a lot of sense... do it.  We have a shelving unit outside our basement bathroom, right by our garage door (our basement opens to our garage) and we can keep all our camping stuff there.  We also keep our bike helmets there (this works for us because of it's proximity to our garage, but you might consider buying extra... always handy when friends come over to play anyway!)  We also have hooks right by the door where we store our rain gear.  When we have a tornado warning we don't need to run around looking for that stuff, we keep it right by our safe room, we can pick it up and take it in with us.  If you have a traditional basement set up, maybe think about where you can consistently keep things that you can easily grab on your way down.

Things you will likely need in the immediate aftermath of a tornado, even if you or your house isn't directly hit... boots (debris and flooding), rain gear, flashlights, long pants, gloves, important documents (insurance #!!!).  When we left our house our town was actually barricaded off and we were told we might not be allowed to go back home once we left.  I had not packed accordingly for that! I hadn't taken our paperwork with us, you might need to leave quickly and in the dark, know where things are and take them with you.  You may need to handle things from a different location, and you might have to do it old school (no smartphone to help you out... because you forgot your charger!) so have important phone numbers on hand.  Think about cash... we didn't have any, and our entire town was out of power.  I'll be putting some in our pack!  Also, I saw THIS super cool weather radio that could be recharged either through solar panels or crank operated if needed and which could function as an LED flashlight & charge your phone... I'm totally getting one of those!

One other mistake I made, was to not take this as seriously as I should have, or could have.  I just didn't have the experience to do so.  I've lived my whole life with one or two uneventful tornado warnings every spring...  warnings were always kind of exciting but I never felt real concern.  I came up and down to the basement one million times, getting blankets, movies, stuffed animals, and wrestling the cats (twice), all at the kids request, while the girls stayed in the safe room.  I will never make that mistake again.  When the tornado hit, I knew it, and I knew that if I didn't haul ass my kids might be left down there alone.  It's serious, take it that way.

Basically, my advice is to take it all the way.  Things absolutely can happen to you.  Think about the worst possible case scenario and prepare for that.  Think about all of the things that could happen, not just the event, but the aftermath and go overboard.    Less really isn't more, here.

Oh, and batteries!  Extra batteries!

The end.


Sara said...

Thank you for this post. I'm so sorry you had to (and continue to) go through this trauma, but I appreciate you using your experience to help others. Would you mind if I pinned this? My family is about to move to Florida, so I'm doing my best to bone up on emergency preparedness.

P.S. I'm a reader who's horrible at commenting (I think I might have commented once a long time ago), but I hope I don't come across as a creepy stalker :)

Mrs Furious said...

not creepy :) Please feel free to pin this. I'd love to be able to help more people get more prepared, and to understand what they need to be prepared... better safe than sorry!

Smitty said...

So I have been waiting a bit to pass this link along because it seemed for a while like the overall stress of the tornado was wearing on you. Don't worry...this isn't a bad thing.

A friend of mine is a meteorologist. Specifically, he focuses on the weather created by wild fires, and his computer models are used by local units of government when wild fires break out to determine their path, how they'll spread, etc.

Well, a colleague and idol of his is this guy, a meteorologist who works primarily on severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. The link takes you to his blog; like anyone with a blog, he bangs away at social issues, religion, politics and the like. But his posts on severe weather, severe weather preparedness, the science behind weather and that kind of stuff are really interesting.

Anyway...there it is. Great advice in this post of yours, by the way. I come to Mrs. Furious, I get cooking and diet tips, recipes, mild drama, and travel and disaster tips. This, madame, is a full-service blog.

Jay said...

Heh, and he (Smitty's friend) lurks on here too (another one of those creepy stalker types who almost never comments).

Here is an excerpt from one of Chuck Doswell's posts about tornadoes:

"I repeatedly hear people in videos saying 'I've never seen anything like this before!' Well, perhaps that's true in in the limited sense of having it happen in front of your eyes, but I guarantee that almost all of these folks have seen videos of tornado disasters on TV. Did you think you were somehow immune? What people find so astonishing is that it actually happened to them!! Well, I've got some news for you, folks -- it can happen to you, and if you don't think so, you're gambling your life and the lives of your loved ones that it won't. If you do nothing to prepare, then you have only yourself to blame for the outcome. It's time to take personal responsibility for your own safety, folks!!"

Chuck, although he eschews the label, IS a living legend among severe storm meteorologists.

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Torey said...

Thanks for sharing this! I'm a total "Safety-Police" Mom and there were a lot of things I didn't know. We don't have a basement though (slab, ranch) and I'm worried about it now. . .so is my Son :(

So sorry you went through this but thank you so much for helping others learn!

Mrs Furious said...

you don't have a basement, is that typical in that neighborhood? I'm surprised.
Do your neighbors?

thanks for the link... hopefully soon I can just get back to good old mild family drama ;)

"Did you think you were somehow immune?"
It's really interesting, because even with this happening I find the majority of people I know have taken away that it happened (to me) and now won't likely happen again (to them). Like there was one tornado and I took the hit, so now they're safe. Or people, here, who keep saying "well we had ours, now we never have to go through that again". Hmm... really?

Jay said...

Mrs. F:

Yes, unfortunately that's a common reaction to this sort of thing. Yes, the chance of being affected by a rare event twice is far less than being affected once before it happens once. But after it happens the first time, the chance of it happening again (unless, in the example of severe weather, you move to a new location) is exactly the same as it was before. So the same level of preparedness is necessary. It's only your perception and understanding of the risk that has been altered, not the risk itself.

Kiki said...

Hey Mrs. F, we don't have a basement here either...it's the beauty of living near the beach and the curse....we sort of have a plan but since I'm not sure being inside our house is the safest place to be I'm stuck in a weird limbo of trying not to worry about it. Batteries and emergency supplies are all on hand and I think that is the best I can do, right?
I'm so impressed with how ready you were and how you've turned this into a teachable moment-I think it's one of the best things about your blog....I'm always learning something useful!!!
Love you guys, be safe!!! XO

steves said...

Excellent post. This is a good topic that I run into quite frequently. A subset of the gun rights groups I frequent are the survivalists. While some of them are pretty out there, most are just people that want to be prepared in case of an emergency.

One thing that they emphasize is not just equipment, but training. This includes stuff beyond basic first aid, since it is quite possible that police, fire, and EMS will either by overwhelmed or just plain unavailable.

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