When facing the kind of threat posed by a storm the size of Hurricane Irene, two of the biggest problems we face are simply not preparing yourself and lacking common sense.
Hurricanes always carry with them the possibility of strong winds, heavy flooding, power outages, food shortages and evacuations, and Irene's size and strength has the potential to be a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Simple things like creating an emergency supply kit, a family emergency communications plan and knowing how to prepare and deal with multiple types of disasters can be potential life-savers.
Flooding, among the most common hazards, is expected to impact most areas along the Eastern seaboard from Irene. However, all floods are not the same.
Some floods develop slowly – sometimes over a period of a few days – while flash floods can develop very fast, sometimes in only a few minutes and without any visible signs of rain. Flash floods, ranging from only a few inches to over 12 feet, are dangerous to motorists, evidenced by last Friday's deluge in Pittsburgh which left a number of motorists trapped in their vehicles.
A torrent of water, no matter how deep, can sweep away most things in its path, including rocks, mud, and other debris. Those living in low-lying areas, near water or downstream from a dam, must be especially alert to the flood threat. Even very small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts, dry streambeds, or low-lying ground that appear harmless in dry weather can flood.
Make a checklist and check your kit regularly for supplies you might need. A basic emergency supply kit should contain enough supplies to get you through three or more days without power. Some disasters might require additional long-term supplies.
Individuals should also consider having at least two emergency supply kits, one full kit at home and a smaller portable kit in their workplace, vehicle or other place where they spend time.
People should also create a family or neighbor emergency communications plan. Never rely on technology to keep in touch with your family in the event of an emergency. Of course, cordless phones won't work if the power is out, although landline phone lines usually work in a power outage. So make sure you have a corded phone readily available.
Remember to identify an out-of town contact. It may be easier to make a long-distance call than to call across town, so an out-of-town contact may be in a better position to communicate with separated family members.
It is also very important that every family member knows the phone number and has a cell phone, coins, or a prepaid phone card to call the emergency contact. Emergency routes and safe havens, as well as updated contact information, should be created and communicated between loved ones.
If you have a cell phone, program that person(s) as "ICE" (In Case of Emergency) in your phone. Usually, emergency personnel will often check your ICE listings in order to contact someone you know. Also, make sure to tell your family and friends that you've listed them as emergency contacts.
All family members should learn how to use text messaging (also known as SMS or Short Message Service). Text messages can often get around network disruptions when a phone call might not be able to get through. Subscribe to free alert services. Most communities now have systems that will send instant text alerts, voice recordings or emails to let you know about an emergency
Knowing how to deal with a disaster properly increases your chances of survival. Depending on the severity and nature of your emergency, the first important decision is whether you should stay or evacuate. You should understand and prepare for both possibilities.
Be aware of shelter locations. Keep informed of the disaster via television or radio. Always remain calm and use common sense to determine if there is an immediate danger.
For example, if there is water flowing over a roadway, don't attempt to drive through it. In most emergencies, local authorities may not be able to provide immediate information or resources. However, updated information and instructions are available through your newspaper, television, radio or on the Internet.