Severe Weather Week begins

By Ed Brock

Even as he enjoyed Sunday's sunny spring weather Ameer Nobles of Riverdale was prepared for the worst.

"We've got a flashlight, bottled water, we've got dried food," Nobles said.

He even rehearses fire escape routes with his young daughter.

"She just learned it and so far we've gone over it with her twice," Nobles said.

Today is "Family Protection Day" in Georgia and also marks the beginning of Severe Weather Awareness Week. Public safety officials are encouraging all Georgians to discuss their family disaster plans.

Following severe weather events such as tornadoes, heat waves, thunder storms and winter storms, the goal is to be self sufficient for at least 72 hours, the amount of time it may take for emergency worker crews to open roads and restore power.

"If people are aware and know what to do it can be an inconvenience and not a life threatening event," said John Dalton, deputy director of the Clayton County Emergency Management Agency.

Firefighters in Clayton and Henry counties will be participating in Family Protection Day and in Wednesday's statewide tornado drill in area schools.

"We've put together some handouts on what to do in case of severe weather and are making those available at certain public buildings," said Maj. Keith Hurley with the Forest Park Fire Department.

Henry County firefighters may participate in some school programs today, Henry County Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Sabrina Puckett said.

"Usually for Severe Weather Awareness Week we're here for anybody who has questions about their emergency preparedness plan," Puckett said.

Preparing a family disaster plan should begin with gathering information on the kinds of hazards that might occur in the area by consulting the local emergency management agency, the National Weather Service or the American Red Cross. Then the family should sit down and discuss the plan.

The plan should include designating two places to meet, one near the home for instances such as fire and a place away from the neighborhood in case access to the home is blocked. An out-of-state friend should be named as the family check-in contact to call if the family gets separated, and evacuation procedures should be discussed.

To implement the plan, post emergency numbers by the phone and equip the house with safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and smoke alarms. Inspect the home for potential dangers and eliminate them.

Members of the family should learn basic first aid and CPR and children should be taught when and how to call 911. Keep enough supplies to last for three days and keep a disaster supply kit in sturdy, easy to carry containers such as backpacks. The disaster supply kit should include changes of clothes and shoes, blankets or sleeping bags, a three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day), portable radios, extra keys and cash and special items for infants, the elderly or disabled family members.

Dalton recommended ordering Federal Emergency Management Agency literature such as publication H-34 on how to be prepared for disasters. To order go to www.fema.gov/library.

Wednesday's tornado drill will begin with the issuance of a fictional tornado watch at 9 a.m. and then the drill itself at 9:30 a.m. This year the alert for the drill will be broadcast on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration emergency weather radios instead of being sent by Dalton's department through an old system of warning boxes.

Part of the reason for the change is the fact that the Clayton County EMA has distributed thousands of the radios for free to schools and businesses in the county and because they are moving into a new facility soon.

"It's a good time to get out of that system and switch to the newer system," Dalton said.

Private homes and businesses are asked to practice their emergency plans at the same time on Wednesday.

Fire departments in Forest Park, Jonesboro and Morrow will be sounding outside emergency drills as part of the drill. In the event of rain on Wednesday the drill will be postponed until Friday.