Preparedness, education key

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 20, 2002

during weather awareness week


Features Editor

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The southeastern United States is one of the most active weather regions in the world.

That is reason for Alabamians to be in a constant state of preparedness, said Larry Davis, Pike County emergency management director.

"Several severe weather episodes strike our state each year," Davis said."Some of these episodes have deadly results."

Technology such as Doppler weather radar, Emergency Alert System and the Internet, have greatly improved the ability of the National Weather Service to provide early warning to Alabama residents. However, powerful technology and early warning cannot save lives unless people are prepared, stay informed and know how to react during severe weather, Davis said.

In an effort to alert Alabama residents to the dangers inherent in severe weather episodes, Gov. Don Siegelman has proclaimed the week of Feb. 18 through 22 Severe Weather Awareness Week.

"The National Weather Service, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the Alabama Department of Education and the American Red Cross urge everyone in Alabama to become weather aware," Davis said. "This special week is a time for all Alabamians to learn or review the proper safety measures to protect themselves during deadly weather. Quick action can mean the difference between life and death."

While most people are most fearful of tornadoes, Davis said tornadoes are not the only weather dangers Alabamians face.

"People survive tornadoes because they know what to do," he said. "And, everyone needs to know how to protect themselves when conditions are right for tornadoes. But, we must stop and think that thunderstorms and lightning cause millions of dollars in property damage each year and even more devastating – they kill."

Because tornadoes are so devastating and because being informed and knowing what to do can prevent injuries and save lives, Davis said it is important for people of all ages to know what to do in the event a tornado hits.

"Tornadoes can form quickly and you may only have a few seconds to react and find shelter," Davis said. "When a tornado threatens, your immediate action can save your life. In general, get as

low as you can. A basement below ground level or, at least the lowest floor of a building offers the greatest safety. Protect yourself from flying debris with pillows, heave coats or blankets. Use bicycle or motorcycle helmets, if available, to protect your head."

Also, Davis said to put as many walls between yourself and the outside as possible and avoid windows at all costs.

"Don’t bother opening or closing windows," he said. "It won’t protect the structure anyway. You’ll waste time and put yourself and possibly other at greater risk."

Davis said those living in mobile homes or caught in a vehicle should leave them and go to a strong building.

"If there is no shelter nearby, get into the nearest ditch or depression and lie flat with your hands shielding your head," he said.

When caught in a school, hospital, factory, nursing home or shopping center, go to a predesignated shelter area, Davis said.

"Basement are best, but interior hallways on the lowest floor usually offer protection," he said. "Close all doors to the hallway for greater protection."

Davis said it is also important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

A tornado watch means conditions favor tornado development.

"Listen to your radio or televisions for more information and stay alert to the environment," he said.

"Keep an eye out for threatening or rapidly changing weather conditions and be prepared to go quickly to a safe place."