Recognized this week, Georgia marks Severe Weather Awareness Week as Bartow and Gordon counties recover from the very idea stressed in the campaign — tornadoes that left a path of destruction across the area.
“The situation we just went through couldn’t illustrate more how important it is to be prepared for something like this,” Bartow County Emergency Management Agency Director and Fire Chief Craig Millsap said. “Too often, we get wrapped up in our day-to-day lives to really think about something like this happening because, you know, yes, the odds aren’t really great for something like this to come, but as you can see, it does happen. Unfortunately, it has happened in Bartow County twice in the past couple of years.”
Beginning with Family Preparedness Day on Monday, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s Ready Georgia program urges residents to take the day each day to prepare for severe weather. According to GEMA statistics, 352 people have been killed in weather-related events, including two in 2012 and at least one — an Adairsville man — this year.
Millsap stressed the importance of preparing now for hazardous conditions.
“You have to go ahead and start making those preparations because when it actually gets here, at that point it’s too late to start doing those things,” he said. “You really need to have those plans in place: Where are you going to go? How are you going to get those warnings? ... Those preparations, you have to make those in advance. It’s not something you try to wing after the event happens.”
GEMA Director Charley English in a release said the state has seen record flooding, tornadoes and wildfires in recent years and changes to the state’s population and urbanization created the potential for storms to impact more people and structures.
“Georgia is susceptible to nearly every type of natural disaster. Being prepared is the best defense against the unexpected, so Georgians should use this opportunity to take simple, but potentially life-saving emergency preparedness steps,” English said. “Tornadoes, storms and floods can devastate communities, but the damage can be minimized if we’re prepared.”
Although the tornadoes are possible any time of year, March, April and May are considered the prime months for the disasters to strike.
Despite recent severe weather events, a 2012 survey revealed 71 percent of respondents have not yet arranged a family meeting place or reconnection plan. In addition, less than 30 percent own NOAA weather radios. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts National Weather Service watches, warnings, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day. In Georgia, approximately 98 percent of Georgia’s population lives within range of NOAA Weather Radio coverage.
“NOAA Weather Radios are as crucial to family safety as smoke detectors or alarm systems,” English said. “These devices alert you immediately with severe weather or emergency information, when minutes or even seconds count, day or night. Georgia’s NOAA Weather Radio network provides the most saturated coverage of any state in the U.S., making it possible for every community to take advantage of the information broadcasted 24 hours a day.”
Millsap stressed the importance of not only having more than one method of severe-weather notification but actually heeding the warnings. “One of the things I’ve been saying for a while is ... you can’t rely on one type of system, whether it be the warning siren system we have currently, because it is simply that — it is an outdoor warning siren,” he said. “There’s different things that could affect your ability to hear it. ... It’s always good to have that second level.
“The other lesson that we just keep trying to make sure people understand is, when those warnings are issued — when you hear it on the radio or you hear on television or you hear our sirens going off — when the warning is issued for that area, that is the time you’ve got to start reacting. You can’t say, ‘Well, I’ll wait and see where it’s going or what it’s doing,’ because by then it may be too late.”
Although the focus recently has been on deadly natural disasters, officials said it is important to remember that severe thunderstorms happen frequently and have the potential to be dangerous.
Thunderstorms can produce strong winds, lightning, tornadoes, hail and flooding. Today is Thunderstorm Safety Day, with officials recommending checking patios or yards to make sure there is nothing that could blow away during a storm. This includes checking trees for dead or rotting branches, and removing them to prevent storm damage.
The typical thunderstorm is 15 miles in diameter and lasts an average of 30 minutes. Nearly 10 percent of thunderstorms are classified as severe, meaning they have winds of 58 mph or higher, hail at least three-quarters of an inch and may produce a tornado.
According to the National Weather Service, Georgia can expect 45 to 55 days with thunderstorms each year. However, they occur most frequently in the spring and summer months, peaking in July. Approximately 10 percent of all thunderstorms in the U.S. are classified as severe.
“We run into severe thunderstorms a lot where we just have straight-line winds or you know the risk of flooding,” Millsap said. “I know it’s hard to think about flooding sometimes especially when we have drought conditions. ... It doesn’t take a whole lot of substantial rainfall, especially for certain areas around Bartow County, to flood those roadways.”
GEMA recommends residents prepare for a thunderstorm by doing the following:
• Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.
• Remember the 30/30 lightning safety rule: Go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
• Avoid natural lightning rods such as tall, isolated trees in an open area; hilltops, open fields, the beach or a boat on the water; isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas; and anything metal — tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs and bicycles.
If a thunderstorm is likely:
• Postpone outdoor activities.
• Get inside a home or building,.
• Remember, rubber-soled shoes and rubber tires provide no protection from lightning. However, the frame of a hard-topped vehicle provides increased protection if you are not touching metal.
• Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage.
• Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades or curtains.
• Avoid showering or bathing. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
• Use a corded telephone only for emergencies. Cordless and cellular telephones are safe to use.
Millsap said to be prepared for an emergency residents should create not just an emergency kit but have a plan in place for after the storm.
“Think about your travel routes and being at home and those things,” he said. “Again, in today’s world, you never really know what to prepare for, but there’s basic preparations that are applicable to everything. It’s having that 72-hours worth of food and water, you know, those things on hand or those alternative ways of creating light with flashlights or battery-powered lanterns, spare batteries, those things. All those things you could prepare for to take care of the immediate needs yourself.”
State Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said in a release that while a standard homeowner’s insurance policy covers damage from high winds and tornadoes, it does not cover damage from flooding. A separate policy must be purchased through the National Flood Insurance Program, and can only be purchased if your community participates in the national program.
He recommended residents make a list of all valuables, furniture, electronics, etc., and photograph or videotape. Copies of the list, photographs and videotape should be kept in a safe place outside the home.
In addition, information on insurance policies and agents should be in a safe place.
Information is available for Bartow residents through the EMA office at 770-387-5089.
“There are host of programs we do, from going into schools with our education and things like that. We have a lot of pamphlet information and we can refer you to different resources simply by calling our office ...,” Millsap said. “There is a host of information available on the web, even resources on how to talk to small children about these events and things like that.”
To help families prepare, Ready Georgia offers the tools needed to make an emergency supply kit, develop a communications plan and stay informed about potential threats. Visitors to Ready Georgia’s website, www.ready.ga.gov, can create an online profile to receive a tailored plan for the entire family that includes the specific amount of supplies to put in their household Ready kits. Visitors can also find local emergency contact information, learn about Georgia-specific disasters and read preparedness testimonials from local sports stars. Children’s games and activities can be found on the ReadyKids page, and households with elderly or disabled family members and pets will also find specific information on preparing for severe weather. For more information on how to prepare for severe weather, visit www.ready.ga.gov or www.srh.noaa.gov/ffc, or download Ready Georgia’s free mobile app. For information on property insurance, visit www.oci.ga.gov or call a representative of Hudgens’ Consumer Services Division at 404-656-2070 or toll-free at 1-800-656-2298. Calls are taken from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.