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August 13
Electric Air!

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I love this time of year. There’s an electric quality to the air and the feeling of new beginnings.

It’s move-in week on this college campus. Anticipation, fear, excitement, dread, worry—I imagine all of these emotions floating around me as families move new and returning students into dorms and apartments all over campus and around town.

I’m betting these students are getting mentally prepared for classes, studying, and making new friends. But are they prepared for possible monkey wrench—an accident—in the middle of their activities?

Everyone, regardless of student or nonstudent status, can do one thing to avoid accidents or to effectively react to such events: pay attention.

Watch for Dangers While on Foot

Watch people around you when you are walking. If you see activity that doesn’t seem normal or appropriate, move away and call the police. Don’t walk alone at night or in unfamiliar areas. Approach your vehicle with caution, even during the day. Have your keys ready, glance underneath the vehicle, and check inside. If someone is loitering near your car, walk to a place of safety, and call the police. The National Crime Prevention Council has resources for 18- to 24-year-olds.

Watch for Dangers While Driving

According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a leading cause of unintentional injury deaths of people ages 15 to 44 was motor vehicle traffic.  Distracted driving was a major factor. Any activity that takes a person’s attention away from driving endangers the driver, passengers, and bystanders. Texting is at the top of the list of distracted driving activities. Put down the phone. Practice defensive driving.  Learn how from Robert Schaller’s 70 Rules of Defensive Driving.

Improve Your Chances by Paying Attention

Actions you take can help reduce your chances of adding to these statistics. Pay attention to what is happening around you. Take action to make your surroundings safe for yourself and your loved ones. Visit the Safe Kids USA, Ready.gov, National Crime Prevention Council, American Red Cross, National Safety Council, and eXtension for checklists, planning templates, fact sheets, and other materials to help you stay safe. 

August 03
Emergencies are Inconvenient

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Emergencies are never convenient; most often they seem to occur at the most inopportune times. For example, early one morning (1:30 a.m.), I felt the need to get up and discovered that the toilet was spraying water all over the bathroom. Later we began the basement cleaning that was required due to the propensity for water to fall through the flooring. Luckily, we had only clean water to mop and a few rugs and cushions to dry. It could have been much worse.

It takes deliberate planning to be prepared for most emergencies and—by extension—many disasters you may face. You may find that much of what you need to respond to an emergency is already in your home. How do you prepare for small emergencies such as our small late night/early morning water supply hose break? How would that help in a larger event?

Knowledge is one of the basic tools you need to be prepared. Can you answer “yes” to the following questions?

  • Do you know where to turn off the water in your bathroom and kitchen? Do you know where and how to turn off the water supply at the house? Do you know how to turn off the water supply at the water meter (do you know where that meter is located?)?
  • Do you know which breakers disconnect the electricity to air conditioning units, large appliances, and outlets? Do you know where the main breaker to the house is located?
  • Do you have natural or propane gas for water heaters or home heating? Do you know the locations of the valves in the house? If there is a need, do you know how to turn off the main valve? Watch NDSU Extension Engineer Ken Helevang​ demonstrate how to turn off the main valve on the natural gas meter and on the propane tank.  [Do NOT turn main valves back on after a disaster—contact your local provider]

My answers to these questions were a mix of “yes” and “no.” Yours probably were too. Take a few minutes to learn these basics, so you will be better prepared for the next emergency.

For information on preparing for future floods, visit eXtension.org. ​

July 17
Summer Thunderstorms: Lightning Safety

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July 17 – The 2015 Barbasol Championship golf tournament is taking place on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Grand National in Opelika, Alabama, this week. When PGA Tour officials visited the site, they were pleased with the location and the pleasant temperatures. I don’t think they visited in July!

Tournament temperatures are in the mid- to upper 90s with the heat index even higher. But the golfers are professionals. They play in good weather and in bad. Fans in the gallery are also dedicated, following their favorites as long as there is action on the course.

As with other outdoor sports, participants and observers need to be aware of the surroundings and be prepared for whatever weather the day may bring. In summer, that could mean hot and humid one minute and a thunderstorm the next. Lightning is the primary danger during a thunderstorm.

So far this year, twenty people in the United States, including three in Alabama, have been struck by lightning and died. What were they doing? The victims had one thing in common—they were all outside. The range of their activities was broad (walking dogs, walking across a parking lot, riding a motorcycle, working on a roof, camping, herding cattle, covering chickens, sitting on a beach, fishing, or playing disc golf).  

Some people are struck by lightning and live to tell about it. Greg Whitis is one of them. Here is his story.

I was a graduate student in Auburn Fisheries in 1982. One of my chores as a fish head on the North Research Unit was to feed the fish. A buddy of mine, David Crosby, was driving a van, and we parked under a lone pine tree next to a set of ponds. I walked around back to the rear of the van and was just reaching for the back door when it hit. I remember a huge spark leaping from the door of the van to my hand and being knocked to the ground. David said he felt it coming as his hair started to get tingly. I can’t recall hearing anything loud. I do recall the smell of ozone—kind of like a motor burning up. David wasn’t hit—I guess being in the van insulated him. I, on the other hand, probably served as a grounding rod for the van. The pine tree probably served as a bigger lightning rod.  I do recall standing under a blue sky and a thunderstorm off in the distance.

I was dazed and it took maybe a minute before I realized what had happened. I don’t think I blacked out at all. No burns. No long lasting effects either. I would say it did affect my job performance when I worked on a fish farm after graduating. One thing I just could not do was operate a crane (boom) truck if I heard thunder. I would just lock up mentally. A crane truck is a perfect lighting rod because the metal outriggers are usually on the ground and provide a really good truck-to-ground connection. And the boom could be the tallest thing around.

I do have an almost cavalier attitude about lightning striking again. I figure what are the odds getting hit twice in a lifetime? Seriously, if I am rototilling or riding on my tractor and hear thunder in the distance, I do seek shelter, but I don’t cower in a storm.​ 

Don’t cower and don’t risk being one of those people who will die by a lightning strike. If you are caught outdoors, go immediately to safe shelter—a substantial building with electricity and plumbing or an enclosed, metal-topped vehicle with the windows up. Here are a few indoor safety tips.

  • Avoid contact with anything that conducts electricity:
    • ​Corded telephones, computers, and other electrical equipment
    •    Plumbing, including sinks, baths, and faucets
    • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
  • Do not lie on concrete floors or lean on concrete walls.

If you cannot go indoors, remember these last-resort outdoor tips from NOAA.

  • ​Immediately get off elevated areas such as hills, mountain ridges, or peaks.
  • Never lie flat on the ground.
  • Never shelter under an isolated tree.
  • Never use a cliff or rocky overhang for shelter.
  • Immediately get out and way from ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water.
  •  Stay away from objects that conduct electricity (barbed wire fences, power lines, windmills, etc.)

For more information, go to http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/fatalities.shtml

 

June 15
Humid + Muggy = Humugity
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Every time I've stepped outdoors the last few days, I imagined that I stepped into a room in which someone was pouring water on hot rocks. It's hot, steamy, and hard to breathe. But I'm not really in a saunaI'm just in Central Alabama on a summer day.
 
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), one or more parts of the United States will experience a heat wave each summer. Heat waves in our part of the country tend to combine high temperatures with high humidity.
 
Heat alerts are issued by the NWS Forecast office. These alerts include
  • Excessive Heat Outlooks are issued when there is potential for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days.  The outlook (forecast) is based on the combination of temperature and humidity over the specified period of days.
  • Excessive Heat Watches are issued when conditions are favorable in the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • Excessive Heat Warning/Advisories are issued when an excessive heat even is occurring, is imminent or has a very high probability of occurring. The warning is used when conditions pose a threat to life. An advisory is issued for less serious conditions that can cause significant discomfort that may lead to life-threatening conditions if precautionary measures aren’t taken. 

All three types of alert are based on Heat Index (HI) values. The Heat Index is a measure of how hot it feels when relative humidity (RH) is added to the actual air temperature.  For example, if the air temperature is 80° F and the relative humidity is 70%, the Heat Index (how it feels) is 83° F, and if the air temperature is 90° F and the relative humidity is 70%, the Heat Index is 105° F. If you’re in the sun, these temperatures may feel up to 15 degrees hotter.

 

As hot as it might be outside, car interiors and other unventilated spaces get even hotter. Dark dashboards and car seats contribute to the heating of cars. The sun on an 80° F day can heat the interior of a car to 123° F in one hour.  Interior surfaces directly exposed to the sun can be even hotter.

 
Keep children, disabled adults, and pets safe
 
  • Make sure safety seats and safety belt buckles are not too hot before securing children in the car.
  • Never leave children, disabled adults, or pets unattended in a vehicle, even with the windows down.
  • Teach children not to play in, on, or around vehicles.
  • Always lock car doors and trunks—even at home. Keep keys out of children’s reach.
  • Always make sure all children have left the car when you reach your destination. Don’t ever leave sleeping children in the car.
Extremely hot and humid weather affects our bodies’ ability to cool. Young children and older adults are very susceptible to heat illnesses. Other conditions that can make some people more susceptible to heat are obesity, fever, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, prescription drug and alcohol use, and sunburn. Heat-related illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke (sunstroke). Heat stroke can result in death.
 

Heat safety tips

  • Reduce, eliminate or reschedule strenuous activities until the coolest part of the day. Anyone with health problems should stay in the coolest available place.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing to reflect heat and sunlight.
  • Eat cooler foods such as salads and fruit. Meat and other proteins increase metabolic heat and increase water loss.
  • Drink plenty of water, non-alcoholic and decaffeinated drinks.  Even if you don’t feel thirsty, drink plenty of fluids—they help your body keep cool.
  • Don’t get too much sun. Sunburn reduces your body’s ability to lose heat.
  • Don’t take salt tablets unless specified by your physician.
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places. If you don’t have an air-conditioner, go to a library, store or other location with air conditioning for part of the day.
 
 

Resource: Heat: A Major Killer (NWS)

April 20
What's Your Plan if the Power is Out?

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I don’t know about you, but I depend on electricity for nearly everything I do. It powers all sorts of appliances around the house, from the electric fan that blows cooled or heated air throughout the house to the oven used to roast vegetables. Electricity is the power I use to operate the television, charge batteries for laptops and cell phones, and to turn on the lights. Electricity is also the power supply for any special medical equipment. Away from home, we also depend on electricity. Traffic lights, fuel pumps, ATM machines, restaurant kitchens, and store registers operate on electricity.

 Power outages may occur following storms, but they may also be planned (utility work) or a result of an accident. They may be short- or long-term. What will you do if the power is out? Here are a few tips from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Before

  • Build your emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Keep your car tank at least half full.
  • Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage opener is located and how to operate it. Will you need help lifting it?
  • Keep a key to your house with you if you regularly use the garage as the primary means of entering your home.
  • Keep an extra propane tank if you have a gas grill. Never use the gas grill indoors.
  • Call your power company if you use a battery-operated wheelchair, life-support system, or other power-dependent medical equipment to learn what options are available to you.
  • Keep a battery-operated talking or Braille clock or oversized timepiece with extra batteries if you have visual disability.
  • Consider a small portable battery-operated television set if you are deaf or have a hearing loss. Emergency broadcasts may give information in American Sign Language (ASL) or open captioning.
  • Plan alternate ways to evacuate if you live in a multi-story apartment building or condominium. Elevators will not work if the power is out.
During

  • Use flashlights for emergency lighting. Do NOT use candles; they raise your risk of fire.
  • Follow energy conservation measures.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. For extended power outages, consider using coolers to store food you will need during the day. Refill the cooler from the refrigerator or freezer at night when the air temperatures are cooler.
  • Fill plastic containers with water and place them in the refrigerator and freezer if there’s room. Leave about an inch of headroom in each one, because water expands as it freezes. Chilled or frozen water will help keep food cold during a temporary power outage.
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment, or electronics in use when the power went out. Power may return in momentary surges that can damage computers as well as motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer or furnace.
  • Do not run a generator inside a home or garage. Be sure the generator is adequately ventilated away from the house. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can result if the generator is not adequately ventilated. CO is colorless and odorless. It may be hard to gauge your level of exposure. Symptoms typically begin with headaches at about a 10 percent level of CO in your bloodstream. Levels of 50 percent to 70 percent may result in seizure, coma, and death. If you know you have been exposed to CO, have a headache or feel sick, turn off the source, warn others, and consider going to the hospital.
  • Take steps to remain cool or warm, depending on the outside temperatures. Consider going to another location to stay cool or warm.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals will stop working during an outage.

After

  • Throw out unsafe food: any refrigerated or frozen food that has been exposed to temperatures 400 for two hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Decide what you needed that you didn’t have during the blackout and plan for it for the next time the power is out.

We’re well-connected to the power grid most of the time. Plan to conserve energy to help avoid blackouts and be prepared for those times when there is a power outage.

 

For more information

March 24
Do One Thing to Prepare for Disaster

America's PrepareAthon!℠ was launched in 2013 as a national, grassroots campaign for action to increase community preparedness and resilience through hazard-specific drills, group discussions, and exercises. The goals of the campaign are to increase the number of individuals who:

  • Understand which disasters could happen in the community;
  • Know what to do to be safe and mitigate damage;
  • Take action to increase their preparedness; and
  • Participate in community resilience planning.

It takes three easy steps to participate in America's PrepareAthon!:

  1. Choose your hazard and preparedness activity,
  2. Create an account and register your activity on www.ready.gov/prepare, and
  3. Download materials designed to help you plan and promote your day of acction.

Visit the website to find free, easy to use, customizable hazard-specific guides and resources designed to help you plan and conduct preparedness activities.

Why should you get involved? Did you know that nearly 70 percent of Americans have not participated in a preparedness drill or exercise at their workplace, school or home in the past year? Participating in drills and exercises helps build and reinforce what you should do when a disaster strikes. Knowing what to do is critical, especially when seconds count. Practicing what to do, where to go, and how to stay safe during an emergency empowers individuals and the entire community.

February 26
Standby Generators for Emergency Power

generator Standby generators are powered by tractors or engines and may be either portable or stationary. Engine-driven units available may have an automatic or manual start and are powered by gasoline, LP gas (bottled gas), or diesel fuel.

Generators must provide the same type of power at the same voltage and frequency power lines supply. This is usually 120/240 volt, single phase, 60 cycle alternating current (AC). Two to 2 1/4 hp engine capacity with the proper drive system must be available for each 1,000 watts of generator output.

Size of Generators

A full-load system handles an entire farmstead’s energy needs. An automatic, engine-powered, full-load system begins to furnish power immediately or within 30 seconds after power is off. A smaller, less expensive part-load system may be enough to handle essential equipment during an emergency.

Power take-off (PTO) generators cost about half as much as engine-driven units and can be trailer mounted. A part-load system operates only the most essential equipment at one time. For most farms this is adequate if the generator has the power to start the largest motor.

Consider what you need. For example, the milk cooler of the ventilation fan must operate continuously, but operation of the silo unloader and mechanical feeing system can be delayed until the milking chores are over.

Installation

Wiring and equipment must be installed in accordance with the National Electrical Code, local ordinances, and the requirements of the power supplier. It is important to have the proper equipment for disconnecting the generator from public utility lines. Most companies require the installation of a double-pole, double-throw transfer switch or its equivalent for this purpose. Check with your electrician or power company representative for installation instructions and inspection.

Location & Safety Features

Large engine generators are best located in a dry-conditioned building. Inlet and outlet air ducts must be large enough to carry off excess heat. Air inlets and outlets should open at least 1/2 square foot for each 1,000 watts of generator capacity. Combustion fumes must be carried outdoors safely. Exhaust pipes must be at least 6 inches from combustible material.

Operation

An automatic standby unit starts automatically when power fails and stops when power is restored. When using an engine-driven generator with manual start or when using a tractor-driven unit, follow this procedure when power fails:

  1. Call your power supplier and advise them of the conditions.
  2. Turn off or disconnect all electrical equipment.
  3. Position the tractor or engine for belt or PTO drive. Check on the direction of exhaust pipes. Be sure there is no danger of fire. Put some distance between the equipment and animals or other humans.
  4. Start the unit, and bring the generator up to proper speed (1,00 or 3,600 rpm). The voltmeter indicates when the generator is ready to carry the load.
  5. Turn the transfer switch to the generator position.
  6. Start the largest electric motor first. Add other loads when each is up to operating speed. Don’t add too many loads too fast. If the generator quits, then repeat steps 2, 4, and 5.
  7. Check voltmeter frequently. If voltage falls below 210 volts for 240-volt service or below 105 volts for 120-volt service, disconnect some equipment to reduce the generator load.
  8. When commercial power is restored, return the transfer switch to the normal power position. Then stop standby unit. Power down, switch loads, then repower equipment.

Maintenance

  1. Keep the unit clean and in good running condition at all times for immediate use. Accumulation of dust and dirt can cause the motor to overheat when operated.
  2. Follow the maintenance instructions in manufacturer’s manual. A short operation at set intervals keeps the engine in good operating condition. Regularly scheduled warm-ups are necessary to keep standby generators in good working order. 
  3. Change fuel every 6 months. Use a fuel stabilizer to keep fuel from becoming stale. 
  4. Inspect for damage from weather and rodents.

Used by permission of the Extension Service at Mississippi State University (http://msucares.com/pubs/infosheets/is1731.pdf)

February 25
Trees and Power Lines After the Storm

​The most common reason for storm power outages is tree failure onto power and communications lines. The utilities do their best to clear the lines of branches to prevent this, but this is not always enough.

When a storm passes and we first go outside, it’s important to be aware of trees in contact with power lines. Consider the following safety protocols when approaching storm-damaged trees that may be in contact with power lines or power lines that have fallen due to tree failure.

  • Treat all fallen power lines as live. Just because your power is out, doesn’t mean the line isn’t energized.
  • Never attempt to remove branches or trees from utility lines.
  • The higher on the pole the line is, the more powerful that line is. You can also look at the ceramic insulating discs. The utilities use the bowl-shaped ceramic discs as insulators between the lines and the poles. More discs equals more power.
  • Even television cable and telephone lines are capable of hurting you. 
  • Before approaching a tree that might be in direct contact with utility wires, examine it from more than one direction. Do not approach or touch the tree if you see contact with lines.

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The more powerful the lines the tree is in contact with, the more likely that not just the tree, but the ground around it is energized. Avoid trees in contact with any wires.

This is important. If someone has been injured or rendered unconscious by contact with a utility line or a tree in contact with a utility line, do not approach or touch them. If the person is energized, you will also be shocked and become a second victim. Always call emergency authorities to approach someone harmed by electrical lines. In the case of electrical danger, you are more likely to be harmed yourself in the attempt to rescue the fallen person.

The key objective is avoid the electricity, call the utility company if you see a tree in contact with wires, especially if lines have fallen or been torn off the poles. Treat every wire as live even if the power is out. Don’t come in contact with the line or anything touching the line.

February 25
Managing Snow and Ice in Greenhouses and High Tunnels
Excessive weight of snow and ice can cause damage or even destroy greenhouses and high tunnels. Ice and snow together add significantly more weight than snow alone.

Jeremy Pickens, Alabama Extension horticulturist, points out that greenhouse load capacities differ from structure to structure, so it’s difficult to predict exactly how much is too much. The design, amount of supporting bows, and gauge of metal influence the load capacity of a structure. 

“High tunnels can be especially prone to damage because they are made of inexpensive materials and are unheated. Roofs with greater pitch (Gothic arch or modified Gothic arch) can slough off snow easier than Quonset-roofed structures that have a very slight roof peak.

“Your greenhouse or high tunnel manufacturer may be able to provide additional information on the load capacity of your greenhouse or high tunnel,” Pickens says.

For heated greenhouses, double poly layers can be deflated to allow snow and ice to come in closer contact with heat being lost through conduction. This heat can increase the melting rate of snow on a structure.

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Steve Fellows, owner of Techne Structures in Mobile, suggests turning up the heat in the greenhouse to enhance melting. The cost of the extra heat is less expensive than the cost of damage caused to the structure.

Fellows also recommends gently removing snow that sticks. The morning sun melting just one side of the structure can cause a weight imbalance. Use the extended handle of push brooms and gently pull the snow off the roof.

“A piece of PVC pipe with a tennis ball mounted on the end can also be used to gently knock snow loose on the underside of a structure. This is especially important if your plastic is loose and pockets have formed from sagging. Start early to remove snow before the load is unmanageable,” Pickens notes. 

For unheated structures, Bill Mathis with Atlas Greenhouse in Alapaha, Ga., recommends using 2x4 or 4x4 lumber wedged between the ground and purlins or bows. This gives extra strength to the structure and is a useful technique in high tunnels because they are unheated and designed with less structural support. 

According to Mathis, if support columns are not an option and you face an emergency situation, a last resort is to cut the plastic. Losing the crop is less painful than incurring the cost from damage or destruction of a structure.  You can find more information from Kentucky State University at
http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CDBREC/anderson/fl_prog/gh_snow.htm.

“Remember that your safety is more important than any structure. Stay safe and use good judgment when on roads or working around ice and snow.  Do you have additional information or experiences that you would like to share? If so, we would like to hear from you at pickejm@aces.edu,” Pickens says.
February 13
How Many Tornadoes?

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​National Weather Service (NWS) in Birmingham says 54. That is, between February 20 and November 23, 2014 there were 54 confirmed tornadoes across Alabama. Using post-event storm survey information from NWS offices in Huntsville, AL, Jackson, MS and Peachtree City, GA, the Birmingham office created a detailed statewide interactive map. You​​ can see the map and study the details of each tornado here

The interactive map is a great reminder that tornadoes can occur in any month, and is just in time for the 2015 statewide severe weather awareness week. During the week of February 15-20, you are encouraged to share information and increase your own knowledge about severe thunderstorms, lightning, tornadoes, flooding and flash flooding, and on Friday wrap up with tips on ways to receive weather alerts

The following links lead to excellent resources for the week or anytime you focus on severe weather preparedness.

Learn as much as you can about the types of disaster you may be at risk of experiencing and

Get a kit. Build a disaster supplies kit tailored for you and your family. Stow a kit at work and in your vehicle. The general rule for your household kit is to have enough supplies on hand for at least three days for each person in your household.

Make a plan. The best thing to do if severe weather is forecast is to stay put, but if you must travel during severe weather be sure someone knows your departure time and expected travel route. Know where you can go to get out of harm’s way if you are outdoors or in public spaces when severe weather strikes. 

Be informed. Learn weather terms. Listen to your local radio and television stations for the most current weather information. Tune your NOAA weather radio to your area​. Participate in Severe Weather Awareness Week.


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