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April 03
Spring Hazards

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Springtime brings certain weather-related occurrences. Among them are wildfires, tornadoes, and floods

You might not think about wildfires as being a risk for the state, but Alabama’s Southern Wildfire Risk Assessment identified 935 communities at high or very high risk from wildfires and more than 7,000 communities at moderate risk. See the county risk of wildfire maps to help determine your risk level.  

Tornadoes strike Alabama fairly often. Most people remember the very active year of 2011. Since then, tornado activity in the state has been relatively quiet.  Nevertheless and regardless of where you live in Alabama, you should be prepared. The keys to surviving a tornado are knowing you are in danger, knowing where to go, and moving quickly.

The National Weather Service has a great flood safety site. Included is a section dedicated to floods in Alabama. If you live near a river, you probably know your level of risk. However, if you live in other areas of the state, you may not realize that you can also be susceptible to flooding. Regardless of where you live, you can develop an evacuation plan and know alternate routes if you encounter a flooded road.

In all disasters, it pays to have a plan for getting in touch with family members and others. Finally and ahead of the season, here are 15 Questions for Hurricane Preparation.

When was the last time you checked and practiced your disaster preparedness plan? If you haven’t pulled it out lately, now is a good time!

Additional preparedness resources include Preparedness for Livestock (LSU) and 

Wildfire

Tornadoes

Floods

March 13
Spring Weather Can Be Severe

This year, the calendar indicates that spring will arrive with the vernal equinox on March 20. When I think of spring, I think beautiful flowers, sunshine, and warming temperatures. When I think of March, I visualize blustery days and bumpy airplane rides. During the second week of March this year, we experienced both – sunshine, flowers, and warm temperatures that took a nosedive when a cold front blew through the state. At least we didn’t have snow to go with the wind and dropping temperatures!

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March is typically a month of changing weather for us. That weather can be pretty severe when warm and cold fronts collide. To help you be better prepared for severe weather, and especially for tornadoes, we have recently revised and published Tornado Safety in PDF and HTML formats. You can download the PDF (high- or low-resolution) or order a printed version.


While you’re thinking about tornado safety, visit this United States Tornadoes blog post by Katie Wheatley. She’s created an animated map of how tornadoes progress across the country throughout the year.

October 21
Battery, Don't Fail Me Now!
The story begins with fire, three-legged races, and football.

 

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a chill in the air, and we had a church festival to attend. Arriving in fine time, we discovered that football was not the main attraction. The host was actually broadcasting music over the speakers even though there was a major football game being played! And someone—who will remain anonymous—forgot to bring her smart phone.

 

84628726.jpgSo, to the car we went every so often to check the score and listen to just a few minutes of the exciting game. Between those times, we enjoyed watching three-legged races, an egg toss, and pumpkin carving. Those who weren’t watching the games enjoyed the fire and conversations.

 

After dark and the football game’s final score, we decided that it was time to head home. That funny clicking sound and stutter-blinking the car had made at the end of the game was not a good sign. In fact, it meant the battery was dead.

 

Up with the hood and out with the jumper cables! Two perfectly capable men stood there scratching their heads. Where is the battery? They found part of it (the positive pole), but could still not see the battery.

 

The young woman who had parked just in front of us was ready to jump-start our vehicle. She had two small children in the car, and they were patiently waiting to go home. But the men were still trying to figure out how the cables were supposed to be connected, because they couldn’t see the battery. The young woman made a suggestion, but the men still weren’t sure. Instead, they decided it was time to pull out the book and see what the manufacturer had to say. And behold, she was correct. Jumper cables put in place—the car started.

 

I actually have two points I want to make. Do you know how old your car battery is? Like batteries in your smoke detectors and flashlights, car batteries have a definite lifetime. The average life of a traditional car battery is three to five years. The battery in this vehicle is older than that, so we’ve been driving on the edge of disaster.

 

The second point is to be open to finding answers in unexpected quarters. You never know who might have the information you need.

July 10
How Hot is it?

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Air conditioning is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity we experience in Alabama. Even so, it’s hard to stay in the cool all the time.  Whether or not  you have air conditioning, be aware of the hazards of excessive heat.

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.

Three types of heat alerts are issued by the NWS Forecast office. 
  • Excessive Heat Outlooks are issued when there is potential for an excessive heat event in the next 3-7 days.  The outlook 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. A 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 15 degrees hotter. For another explanation, see the July 8, 2013 Capital Weather Gang blog, Weather weenies prefer dew point over relative humidity, and you should too!
 
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 safe
  • Make sure safety seats and safety belt buckles are not too hot before securing children in the car.
  • Never leave children 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 foods such as vegetables, fruits and salads. Meat and other proteins increase body heat and 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.
 
Source: Heat: A Major Killer (NWS)
 
Additional resources
·         Heat Wave Safety (American Red Cross)
·         Heat Wave—Extreme Heat (EDEN)
·         Heat Wave: A Major Summer Killer (NOAA)

 

April 03
Precipitation in the Forecast

Precipitation Forecast Map for April 4, 2013, NOAA

Precipitation forecast maps are interesting.

The forecasters may not always be correct, but their analysis of weather trends should always be taken seriously. Advance knowledge of weather possibilities gives you the opportunity to check your level of preparedness.

 

What should you be prepared for?

We commonly see thunderstorms in Alabama, especially in the active severe months in the spring. A severe thunderstorm includes at least one of these: a tornado, winds at or above 58 mph, or quarter-size or larger hail. Lightning is in every thunderstorm, whether or not the storm is considered severe.

Heavy rainfall in a short amount of time or extended periods of rain can cause flash floods or flooding. Download the 2013 version of the Alabama All Hazards Awareness Guide for more details.

 

What can you do to be prepared?

Follow these tips from an earlier post.

Check

  • Family and work disaster preparedness plans as a refresher on how you will communicate in an emergency. Update your emergency contacts list and ensure that important papers are together in an easy-to-reach location.
  • Yard for items that may become projectiles in high winds. Bring in lightweight items.
  • Emergency supplies kit. Ensure you have a working flashlight and extra batteries, first aid supplies, water, and non-perishable food. You should also ensure that all medications are in an easy-to-reach location.
  • Fuel in your vehicles and generators.
  • Cash on hand in case power outages limit access to anytime tellers.

Be Informed

  • Listen to the radio, television, or your NOAA Weather Radio for the most current information about severe weather.
  • Check online for current weather conditions. We have three NWS forecast offices in Alabama: HuntsvilleBirmingham, and Mobile. Extreme southeast Alabama is also covered by the Tallahassee office. 
  • Most television stations also have websites that include weather bulletins.
  • Check in on social media. Search #alwx on Twitter for Alabama weather tweets or follow your favorite meteorologist.
  • Like your local EMA office on Facebook.
Above all, stay safe!

February 22
Situational Awareness Can Help You Stay Safe

j0432905.jpg Being alert to your surroundings at home, at work, and every place between can help keep you and your loved ones safe. This alertness can be considered situational awareness defined by Derek Smith, senior lecturer in Informatics and Cognitive Science at the University of Wales Institute, as “an index of how a multitude of separate elements interact and of how that interaction then affects what element is likely to do next …” The study of situational awareness is approached from four perspectives: safety, forensic, design, and military.

So how does this apply to safety awareness? Ever heard of accidents or mishaps being the result of human error? In this Ready Tip, we will see how your decisions based on the information you have, the environment, and your ability to act can help you promote safety for yourself and your loved ones.

Look Around Your Home

According to the Home Safety Council, nearly 21 million family members suffer preventable injuries at home each year.  The second leading cause of unintentional deaths in 2004 was accidental poisoning.  Take precautions to reduce family members’ risk of exposure to poison by following these steps:

  • Read labels on everything from dish washing liquid to pesticides. Keep these out of the reach of children.
  • Lock up all products whose labels include the words “caution,” “warning,” “danger,” “poison,” and “keep out of reach of children.”
  • Follow directions when you take medications.
  • Keep products in their original containers.
  • Don’t mix cleaning products.
  • Put a carbon monoxide alarm in your house.

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.

Pay Attention While Driving

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths in 2010 was motor vehicle traffic, followed by poisoning and falls. Eighty percent of vehicle crashes are related to driver inattention. Practice defensive driving.  Learn how from Robert Schaller who has compiled 70 Rules of Defensive Driving.

Improve Your Chances by Paying Attention

Actions you take can help you 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. 

January 29
Potential Severe Weather Threat: Last-Minute Tips

National Weather MapThe calendar is still on January but it seems as though the weather is acting like March or April. Very warm temperatures, winds and moist air are providing the ingredients for potential severe weather later today and tomorrow. Regardless of when severe weather is in the forecast, you can take action to be prepared for damaging straight line winds, hail, or tornadoes.

Check

  • Family and work disaster preparedness plans as a refresher on how you will communicate in an emergency. Update your emergency contacts list and ensure that important papers are together in an easy-to-reach location.​
  • Yard for items that may become projectiles in high winds. Bring in lightweight items.
  • Emergency supplies kit. Ensure you have a working flashlight and extra batteries, first aid supplies, water, and non-perishable food. You should also ensure that all medications are in an easy-to-reach location.
  • Fuel in your vehicles and generators.
  • Cash on hand in case power outages limit access to anytime tellers.
Be Informed
  • Listen to the radio, television, or your NOAA Weather Radio for the most current information about severe weather.
  • Check online for current weather conditions. We have three NWS forecast offices in Alabama: Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile. Most television stations also have websites that include weather bulletins.
  • Check in on social media. Search #alwx on Twitter for Alabama weather tweets or follow your favorite meteorologist.
  • Like your local EMA office on Facebook.
Above all, stay safe!


December 13
Planning for the Event

Gingerbread men I am a reluctant party planner. Many times it is only after I’ve committed (as in sending out invitations) to hosting an event that I actually begin planning the darned thing. Following the event, I chide myself for not being as proactive at the planning stage as I should have been. And planning for one event is really no different than planning for another event. In other words, you can follow a pattern or outline in planning any expected event. The same is true for unexpected events such as floods, fires, or other disasters. You might argue that you can’t plan for a disaster because you don’t know the date, time, or size. But consider this.

Goal If you are planning an event, you’ve decided why you want to host it. For example, you want to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or graduation. The goal is to make someone feel special. Planning for a disaster also has a goal—to reduce the impact of the disaster on your family or your business.

Risk I find that hosting a party can be risky. Maybe I’ll send invitations, but no one wants to attend. Or maybe I have to weigh who to exclude from the invitation list. On the disaster front, I need to decide what is most likely to disrupt my family or business and then consider how it will disrupt us.

Resources You can host a party with varied amounts of resources, but it always pays to actually know what resources you have. For example, I need to know how much money I can spend on food and decorations, where I can host the party (and whether the venue is free or requires funds for rental), if I have help to prepare and serve the food, the size of the party space, and parking accommodations. In planning for a disaster, I need to know my family’s daily routine; how much and what food I have on hand (frozen, refrigerated, nonperishable); the location of the nearest safe space (where my family should go in case of a fire, flood, or tornado—probably not the same for each of these events); transportation options; communication tools, such as telephones (cell and landline); and more. Resources my business might identify include employees, vendors, insurance policies, communication tools, vehicles, equipment, and more.

Timeline My party will have a predetermined date and time, so I work backward from that to decide when to send the invitations, shop for necessary items, prepare food, set up for the party, and clean up afterward. Finally, I walk through all these steps to make sure that I’ve planned enough time for each and that everything will go smoothly. Even though you don’t know when a disaster will strike, you can create a timeline and decide at what point before a predicted flood or severe weather you will take a specific action. You can also assign certain actions for each family member in case of a fire or severe weather. In both cases, everybody involved—whether employees or family members—needs to know what they are supposed to do and to practice those actions.

The book Much of my party planning works off mental history—what worked and what didn’t work when I hosted previous events. That works to a degree, but it’s much more efficient to have everything recorded so I won’t have to rely on my memory. The same is true when planning for disasters, particularly because I may not be on hand to give directions when it’s time to put the plan in action. Write family and business plans, and share with everyone. But don’t let that plan gather dust on the shelf or virtual dust in the computer file. Bring it out, review and practice it, and make adjustments as your life and your business change.

Check out the EDEN website for resources designed for Extension educators/agents and specialists to teach families, faith-based organizations, and business owners and managers how to prepare for disasters.

October 17
Participate in the 2012 U.S. Great Earthquake Drill October 18

​Are you ready for an earthquake? Don’t think it will happen in Alabama? Would you believe there was an earthquake near Oxford, AL on Monday? It was a very small earthquake (magnitude 2.3) that occurred at 8:16 AM 2 miles east of Oxford and 3 miles southeast of Anniston. The largest earthquake (magnitude 5.1) in Alabama was in 1916.

I encourage you to participate in tomorrow’s Great U.S. Shakeout Earthquake Drill at 10:18. You can register your participation here: http://www.shakeout.org/

August 25
Preparing for Hurricanes

152841W5_NL_sm.gifLeonard Pitt's column in the August 21, 2012 Miami Herald issue focused on his experience during Hurricane Andrew twenty years ago. It was during the storm and in the closet with his wife and five children that he felt the likelihood of his own death. He and his family survived, but his home and most of his belongings did not. 

In 1995, Hurricane Opal made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane October 4 near Pensacola and than travelled up the entire state of Alabama. It caused devastation throughout its path from Central America (the hurricane first landed on the Yucatan Peninsula) through New England. How did Opal afffect you? 

You can take action to reduce your vulnerability to hurricanes and increase your safety. Your safety and the safety of those in your family and your work environment are most important.

In the days before the storm arrives...

  • Decide where you will store lightweight items, such as lawn furniture, garbage cans, trampolines, bicycles, and yard tools. Check your yard for other items that may become projectiles in high winds.
  • Review your evacuation plan with your family. If you have pets, identify pet-friendly hotels along your evacuation route.
  • Update your emergency contacts list. Include an out-of-state contact. This person can serve as your family's check-in contact. Call to let him/her know your status following a storm.
  • Update your emergency supplies kit.
  • If you have a generator, check for good working conditiion.
  • Trim shrubs and trees to reduce chances of debris hitting your home.
  • Take an inventory of your home. Digital pictures and a list will be invaluable if you have damage. Make sure the list is in a safe place.

When a watch (tropical storm or hurricane conditions are possible) is issued for your area...

  • Listen to radio, television, or your NOAA Weather Radio for official bulletins of the storm's progress.
  • Fuel and service your vehicles.
  • Ensure you have extra cash on hand, check to ensure important papers are easily accessible and safe from water.
  • Prepare to cover windows and doors with protective materials.
  • Check batteries and stock up on water and non-perishable food, first aid suppoies, and medications.
  • Bring in lightweight items.
  • Plan to leave if you live in a mobile home, live on the coastline, an offshore island or near a river or flood plain, or live in a high rise building on or near the coast.
When a warning (tropical storm or hurricane conditions are expected) is issued for your area...
  • Closely monitor the radio, television, or your NOAA Weather Radio for official bulletins of the storm's progress.
  • Cover windows and doors.
  • Move items that may get damaged if your home floods. 
  • If you live in a mobile or manufactured home, stay with friends or relatives in a more secure building, low-rise inland hotel or at a designated public shelter.
When evacuation orders are issued...
  • Follow instructions issued by local officials.
  • Notify neighbors and a family member outside of the warned area of your evacuation plans.
  • Take pets with you if possible. Remember that most public shelters do not allows pets other than those used by people with disabilities. Identify pet-friendly hotels along your evacuation route. 
If you go to a shelter, you'll need to take...
  • First-aid kit
  • Medicine and prescriptions
  • Toiletries
  • Games, books, music players with headphones
  • Battery-powered radio and cell phone
  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • A blanket or sleeping bag for each person
  • Identification 
  • Copies of important papers such as insurance policies
  • Cash, credit card
  • Special needs items such as baby food, diapers, and hearing aids
If you stay in your home...
  • Turn your refrigerator to maximum cold and keep it closed.
  • Unplug small appliances.
  • Turn off utilities if told to do so by authorities.
  • Turn off propane tanks.
  • Fill bathtub and large containers with water in case clean tap water is unavailable. Use water in tubs for cleaning flushing only.
For these and more details, see Tropical Cyclones: A Preparedness Guide.

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