Emergency Preparedness: Making A Plan Can Save Lives

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Hurricane Florence is on the doorstep of the Carolinas, and the National Hurricane Center is calling the massive storm, with its sustained winds of up to 130 mph, “life-threatening.”

Though it looks like the South will take the brunt of Florence, it’s not just the coastal states that are at risk. The greater Lehigh Valley region and beyond should be prepared for the possibility of heavy rain and even wind damage. It all depends on which way the storm tracks.

“Impacts from Hurricane Florence are possible later this week,” the National Weather Service has said in its Hazardous Weather Outlook. “Continue to monitor the latest forecasts from the National Hurricane Center and begin to think of preparations in case Florence has an impact on the region.”

With late summer and early fall comes hurricane season – and we’ve often felt the after-effects of coastal storms all the way up in the Lehigh Valley region.

Unusually Wet Summer

If the area gets hit with a major storm, the potential for more flooding is higher than in other years because of the unusually wet summer we’ve had. According to a story in the The Inquirer, “Since the beginning of the year, Pennsylvania has gotten so much rain — 40.2 inches just through August — it has smashed every eight-month rainfall total since 1895, when record-keeping began.”

The story goes on to say that “Pennsylvania’s average total summer precipitation, dating back to 1895, is 12.4 inches. This summer it was 18.8 inches, or 51 percent above normal.”

That’s a lot of moisture already in the ground, which means heavy rains may overwhelm waterways. It also brings the potential for trees to topple in heavy winds, because the roots can’t cling to the waterlogged ground as well as usual.

LCA crews are hard at work preparing for the storm’s potential impact. Hurricane and tropical storm impacts on water and wastewater utilities can be severe. As the EPA points out, such storms “have the potential to cause a great deal of damage to drinking water and wastewater utilities due to heavy rainfall and inland flooding, coastal storm surge, and high winds.”

That could mean service interruptions from loss of power; water and sewer line breaks due to washouts, sinkholes and up-rooted trees; combined sewer overflows due to flooding; and more.

During the emergencies, utilities work together. When Superstorm Sandy hit in 2012, LCA got help from the Erie Water Works — the utility had a generator to us within 24 hours of our request.

We want to ensure the general public is prepared, too — for this and any major storm. In a worst-case scenario, flooding could render roads and bridges impassable. The region could experience power outages, flood damage, and even shortages of food and clean water. The same holds true for winter storms, too, which bring the added problem of freezing temperatures.

Make a Plan

The first step is making a plan.

The National Weather Service has a page dedicated to what you should do in the event of a flood. Some of the tips include Turn Around, Don’t Drown if you reach a flooded road; definitions of flood hazards such as flash floods, storm surges, river floods and more; and flood safety. It’s a good place to start.

However, we also recommend following the advice of organizations such as The American Red Cross, Ready.gov, the CDC, and FEMA. Their tips include:

1.) Complete a contact card for each member of the family, which will include home, cell and work phone numbers, social media identification (for instance, Facebook and Twitter usernames); additional contact information for schools, workplaces, friends and other family members; email addresses; important medical information, and more.
2.) Choose an emergency contact, such as a family member, and memorize their phone number.
3.) Teach everyone how to text — from your preschooler to grandma — and ensure everyone knows how to use a cell phone.
4.) Identify the safe spots in your home for each type of natural disaster. During a tornado or other storm with high winds, that’s a low spot away from windows. In an earthquake, it’s in a sturdy area, such as under a well-built desk or table.
5.) Identify several escape routes from your house to use in case of a fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
6.) Pick out several meeting places, and make sure everyone knows where they are. It could be outside of your house near a shed in case of a fire, or at a neighbor’s house, or somewhere outside of the neighborhood, like your Aunt Patty’s house.
7.) Identify family members’ responsibilities in the event of an emergency. For instance, mom grabs the emergency kit; Dad is in charge of getting the car; a son gathers blankets; a daughter rounds up pets.
8.) Teach your children how to call 911, and when to use it.
9.) Make an emergency kit, which includes things like any medication family members require; first-aid supplies; flashlights; clean water; and more.
10.) Have a plan for your pets.
11.) Know where to turn off your home’s electrical, water and gas supplies.
12.) Plastic 2-liter soda bottles can be rinsed out after use, then filled with water, capped, and placed in a freezer. If the power goes out, they’ll provide some backup cooling power and extend the life of your frozen food. They can also be a great source of clean water.
13.) Make sure your home insurance is up-to-date, and review whether you should have flood insurance or other natural disaster insurance.