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Be ready for when disaster strikes

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Preparation and planning are critical to surviving a disaster such as a tornado

As a storm system that had claimed at least 30 lives and injured at least 200 other people moved into Georgia on Tuesday, it was a time for folks to think seriously about personal safety in a disaster.

Past time, really.

The best time to prepare for disaster is long before it arrives, not in reaction to its arrival.

We sincerely hope Georgians all awoke this morning to find it had been an uneventful night. Late Tuesday, we seemed destined for a drenching that was expected to continue into this evening. With any luck, that was the worst of it as this powerful storm system heads northward and out of our area.

Not that the rains, which were predicted to reach as much as 8 inches by tonight in areas hit by thunderstorms, aren’t plenty to deal with. Recent rains have the ground pretty saturated, which means more runoff water and more standing water. That’s particularly dangerous on roadways where motorists have no way of knowing whether the road has been washed out by flash flooding. The safest avenue in that case is a different road.

But west of us, Americans in Mississippi, Arkansas and other places were devastated by deadly twisters, some reaching EF-3 strength, that were birthed by the massive storm that stretched from the Great Lakes to the Gulf shore. They also came on the third anniversary of the worst outbreak of tornadoes in Georgia’s history. On April 27-28, 2o11, 15 Georgians lost their lives and another 143 were injured when 15 twisters — including one extremely powerful that rated EF-4 on the scale — hit the state.

The fact is, sooner or later a tornado is going hit where you’re at or close by. By taking precautions suggested by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, you can improve your chances of surviving the wrath of nature.

First, GEMA officials say, you need to prepare by putting together a ready kit of emergency supplies — water, non-perishable food, a flashlight, batteries and a first-aid kit, any or all which might come into play if power goes out or an evacuation is necessary. They say you should also remember to have needed supplies for family members, such as the elderly, who have special needs and for pets. While items such as insurance information and vital personal records aren’t necessary for survival, they should be in the kit as well. Having that information at hand following a disaster can speed up the recovery time for damaged property.

You should also know where you’re going to go if a tornado strikes. Basements and storm cellars are the safest places, though homes in Southwest Georgia often don’t have them. Stay out of cars and mobile homes and get into a permanent structure. Stay away from windows, doors and get to the lowest floor possible. Wherever your safe spot is, make sure you have blankets or a mattress available to shield you from falling debris. Bathtubs can offer some protection (be sure to cover with a mattress or blankets), as can a heavy table or a workbench. Think out of the box and grab a bicycle, motorcycle or even a batting helmet if you have one to protect your head.

If a tornado warning is sounded, it means one has been spotted nearby. Go immediately to shelter, especially if you spot a twister or funnel cloud. If you’re in a multi-story building, the stairwell might be a good place to ride it out, but never get on an elevator, where you would be trapped if power went out.

Stay on top of the situation. Learn what your community’s warning system is and get familiar with the jargon. For instance, while a tornado warning means one has been spotted and may be headed for your area, a tornado watch means forecasters have determined conditions are conducive to a tornado forming, but has not been sighted.

Monitor NOAA Weather radio, the Internet, commercial radio and TV reports for severe weather updates. If you have a smartphone, you can download a weather service app, such as our state’s free Ready Georgia app, for the latest weather and hazards updates based on your location. You can also use the app to create an emergency preparedness checklist that you can customize.

You can get more life-saving ideas online at ready.ga.gov. No one wants a disaster to strike, but even if one never impacts you being ready just in case is not wasted effort. And if it does, preparation and planning can make all the difference in a living through a deadly situation.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board