Storms are perhaps the most common hazards that nature can throw at a population, and to prove it Florida gets hurricanes, central Europe gets the Foehn, and Australia storms and cyclones. Like most other hazards, though, a population (at least in the first world) is more able than ever to prepare for it.
In preparing this post, I have drawn heavily on advice prepared by the Victorian State Emergency Service (SES), the International Civil Defence Organization (ICDO), and the Louisiana Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparation.
It's prudent to look at what you plan to protect should a storm occur. Check around your home and see whether it seems to have been built according to the building code for your area. Sometimes it's the small things that can bring a home unstuck. For example: is the carport the last tenant put up held onto the house with brackets and bolts or with a couple of wood screws? You should also consider pruning dead branches from nearby trees (and even removing dead or dying trees to prevent them falling onto buildings). If you have caravans or sheds on your property, consider how easy they might be to secure or dismantle. You should also periodically clean (or have cleaned) your gutters and downpipes.
Preparing an emergency kit should be a priority. The contents of a kit have been discussed elsewhere, but to repeat: you should remember to plan for all of the members of your family, including pets. The State Emergency Service recommends including -
- Portable radio with spare batteries
- Torch with spare batteries
- First Aid kit
- A copy of your emergency plan
- Bottled water
- Enough non-perishable food for three days
- Rubber gloves
- Food and special requirements for pets
The SES adds that if an emergency does occur, you should also add:
- Important documents such as passports, birth certificates and insurance papers. The International Civil Defence Organization recommends also including details of your vaccination history and blood type (you may want to generate a medical identification card with these details)
- Mobile phone and charger
- Strong boots or shoes
- Medications and prescriptions
- Battery-powered lamp
- Special items for infants, elderly or disabled family members
- High energy foods (for example, peanut butter, jam, crackers)
- A knife and toolkit
- Paper and pencils
- Glasses and sunglasses
- Plastic sheeting
- Plastic garbage bag and ties
- Protective clothing and wet weather clothing
- Changes of clothes, and a sleeping bag and pillow for each household member
- Car keys and keys to the place you may be going
When a storm is imminent
Monitor news and weather services in your area. The United States' National Hurricane Centre and Australia's Bureau of Meteorology, for example, are excellent resources LINKS. MeteoAlarm has weather warnings for Europe. If you are travelling, the World Meteorological Organization's World Weather Information Service and Severe Weather Information Centre should be consulted.
Before the storm arrives, secure any loose items outdoors, including furniture, shade sails, umbrellas and trampolines. Put vehicles in a solid garage, or if this is not possible, park them in a sheltered spot, wind down the windows, and apply the hand-brake. If possible, livestock should be put into a solid shed or barn with fodder and water, but not tied up or restrained.
When taking shelter, the ICDO and SES variously recommend closing and locking doors and windows and (to the extent possible) boarding them up. Glass should be covered with stars or crosses of sticky tape to reduce the risk of broken shards becoming projectiles (on this note, keep away from windows). It is recommended that you avoid leaving shelter during the storm, but monitor its progress by radio.
Following a storm, your first step should be to check for damage to your home and property. If severe damage has been sustained, contact the emergency relief agencies for your area.
Avoid using vehicles if possible. If you must drive, avoid floodwater, debris and roads or bridges which appear to have been damaged. If you see downed powerlines or unstable or damaged buildings or trees, notify the relevant authorities.
Floodwater should always be treated as contaminated and contact with it avoided. If electrical power is lost for long periods, check fridges and freezers regularly and get rid of food which has begun to rot.
* A phrase I have shamelessly stolen from the New South Wales State Emergency Service.