Feb. 23-27 is Severe Weather Awareness Week

Published 1:48 am Sunday, February 22, 2009

In light of Severe Weather Awareness Week, the Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging asks your help in providing your relatives, friends, and neighbors with information about severe weather safety.

Although severe weather is more likely as we progress into the spring months, it can happen at any time of year. So, take time now to become aware of the different types of severe weather that can occur in this region, and what to do in the event of a severe weather situation. The following information could save your life, and the lives of others.

It’s never too early to prepare and you can take several basic steps right now to protect your family and your home from disaster.

First things first

Structures built to meet or exceed current model building codes for high-wind regions have a much better chance of surviving violent windstorms. The Standard Building Code, promulgated by the Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., is one source for guidance on fortifying your home against fierce winds. Although no home can withstand a direct hit from a severe tornado, good construction will help your home survive if it’s to the side of the tornado’s path.

When inspecting your home, pay particular attention to the windows, doors, roof, gables and connections (roof-to-wall, wall-to-foundation). Residences in inland areas are typically not built to withstand high wind forces, and weaknesses in these elements of your home make it more vulnerable to significant damage.

If you’re handy with a hammer and saw, you can do much of the work yourself. Work involving your home’s structure may require a building contractor, however, or even a registered design professional such as an architect or engineer.

When working outside

Replace gravel/rock landscaping material with shredded bark.

Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed.

Cut weak branches and trees that could fall on your house.

Additional steps you can follow

Take these additional steps to protect yourself and your family as fully as possible:

Decide in advance where you will take shelter (a local community shelter, perhaps, or your own underground storm cellar or in-residence “safe” room). When a tornado approaches, go there immediately. If your home has no storm cellar or in-residence “safe” room and you have no time to get to a community shelter, head to the centermost part of your basement or home – away from windows and preferably under something sturdy like a workbench or staircase. The more walls between you and the outside, the better.

Become familiar with your community’s severe weather warning system and make certain every adult and teenager in your family knows what to do when a tornado “watch” or “warning” sounds. Learn about your workplace’s disaster safety plans and similar measures at your children’s schools or day care centers.

Study your community’s disaster preparedness plans and create a family plan in case you are able to move to a community shelter. Identify escape routes from your home and neighborhood and designate an emergency meeting place for your family to reunite if you become separated. Also establish a contact point to communicate with concerned relatives.

Put together an emergency kit that includes a three-day supply of drinking water and food you don’t have to refrigerate or cook; first aid supplies; a portable NOAA weather radio; a wrench and other basic tools; a flashlight; work gloves; emergency cooking equipment; portable lanterns; fresh batteries for each piece of equipment; clothing; blankets; baby items; prescription medications; extra car and house keys; extra eyeglasses; credit cards and cash; important documents, including insurance policies.

Move anything in your yard that can become flying debris inside your house or garage before a storm strikes. Do this only if authorities have announced a tornado “watch,” however. If authorities have announced a tornado “warning,” leave it all alone.

Don’t open your windows. You won’t save the house, as once thought, and you may actually make things worse by giving wind and rain a chance to get inside.

Don’t try to ride out a tornado in a mobile or manufactured home. Even manufactured homes with tie-downs have been known to overturn in these storms because they have light frames and offer winds a large surface area to push against. In addition, their exteriors are vulnerable to high winds and wind-borne debris.

Finally, review your homeowner’s insurance policy periodically with your insurance agent or company representative to make sure you have sufficient coverage to rebuild your life and your home after a tornado. Report any property damage to your insurance agent or company representative immediately after a natural disaster and make temporary repairs to prevent further damage.

The Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging (M4A) is one of 13 Area Agencies on Aging in the state of Alabama and is designated by an Act of the Alabama Legislature, structured in accordance with the Older American’s Act. M4A serves as the planning and development agency serving seniors in Blount, Chilton, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker counties; in addition, M4A provides services to individuals 60 years of age and older. As the regional focal point for senior services, M4A strives to improve the quality of life for and enhance the independence of seniors and their caregivers.