Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, such as making an emergency supply kit and developing a family communications plan are the same for both a natural or man-made emergency. However, there are important differences among natural disasters that will impact the decisions you make and the actions you take. Some natural disasters are easily predicted, others happen without warning. Planning what to do in advance is an important part of being prepared.
Flooding is the nation’s single most common natural disaster. Earthquakes, though commonly thought to be a West Coast phenomenon, can happen in most every region of the country, including Illinois.
The State of Illinois, due to its location, can experience severe snow during the winter and severe heat during the summer months. Tornadoes are another type of disaster known to occur in this region.
All floods are not alike. Riverine floods develop slowly, sometimes over a period of days. Flash floods can develop quickly, sometimes in just a few minutes, without any visible sign of rain. They often have a dangerous wall of roaring water that carries a deadly cargo of rocks, mud and other debris and can sweep away most things in the flood’s path. Overland flooding occurs outside a defined river, creek or stream when a levee is breached, and can be quite destructive. Flooding can also occur from a dam break producing effects similar to flash floods.
It is important to be aware of flood hazards no matter where you live, especially if you live in a low lying area, near water or downstream from any stream, river, creek or dam. Small streams, gullies, creeks, culverts or low lying ground areas that appear harmless in dry weather can flood.
Drowning is the number one cause of flood deaths. Most victims die during flash floods. Six inches of moving water can knock you off your feet. Use a pole or a stick to make sure that the ground is still there before you go through an area where the water is not flowing. Never drive through a flooded area. More people drown in their cars than anywhere else. Never drive around road barriers. The bridge or road may be eroded. Stay away from power lines and electrical wires. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to the local power company or call 911.
If your home has been flooded, use extra caution when returning. Turn off your electricity. Some appliances, such as television sets, can shock you even after they have been unplugged. Don’t use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they have been taken apart, cleaned and dried. Look before you step. The ground and floors may be covered with debris including broken bottles and nails. Floors and stairs that have been covered with mud can be very slippery. Be alert for gas leaks. Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames unless you are sure that the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out.
If you live in an area that is prone to flooding, stockpile emergency building materials, including plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber, nails, hammer, saw, pry bars, shovels and sandbags. Have check valves installed in building sewer traps to prevent floodwaters from backing up into sewer drains. Have an evacuation plan and route. Be sure to practice the evacuation procedures before a true emergency occurs. Have a backup route in the event the primary one is blocked. Listen to the radio or television for information relating to the flood and forecasts for additional rain when applicable.
Most homeowner’s insurance policies do not offer standard coverage against flood losses. Separate flood insurance is available in most cases. Be sure to check your policy to determine your actual coverage.
An earthquake is a sudden shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth’s surface. Earthquakes can cause buildings and bridges to collapse, telephone and power lines to fall, and result in fires, explosions and landslides.
The term aftershock refers to an earthquake of similar or lesser intensity that follows the main earthquake. Seismic waves are vibrations that travel outward from the center of the earthquake at speeds of several miles per second. These vibrations can shake buildings so rapidly that they collapse. Magnitude indicates how much energy was released. This energy can be measured on a recording device and graphically displayed through lines on a Richter Scale. A magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter Scale would indicate a very strong earthquake. Each whole number on the scale represents an increase of about 30 times the energy released. Therefore, an earthquake measuring 6.0 is about 30 times more powerful than one measuring 5.0.
Items in your home may become hazards during an earthquake. Be sure to repair any defective electrical wiring, leaky gas lines and inflexible utility connections. Bolt down water heaters and gas appliances and consider automatic shut-off devices triggered by an earthquake. Place large or heavier objects on lower shelves. Make sure that shelves are fastened to the walls. Store bottled foods, glass, chin and other breakables on lower shelves in cabinets that can fasten shut. Anchor overhead lighting fixtures. Check and repair deep plaster cracks in ceilings and foundations. Know where and how to shut off electricity, gas and water in your home. Hold earthquake drills and develop plans to evacuate and return to your home. Assemble a survival kit that will sustain you and your family for three days. Use caution when returning to your home. Be alert for structural hazards such as broken beams, collapsed walls, floors and roofs and electrical and gas deficiencies. Listen to news reports for the latest emergency information. Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire or relief organizations.
Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. The impacts of winter storms can include flooding, storm surge, closed highways, blocked roads, downed power lines and hypothermia.
Freezing rain occurs when rain hitting the ground freezes and creates a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines. Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground, causing roads to freeze and become slippery. A winter storm watch is an alert telling you that a winter storm is possible in your area. A winter storm warning tells you that a winter storm is occurring, or soon will be occurring in your area. A blizzard warning indicates that sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour or higher, along with blowing snow and poor visibility are expected and will prevail for a period of three hours or longer. A frost/freeze warning means that below freezing temperatures are expected.
Preparation before a winter storm is essential. You should organize a survival kit that will enable you to be on your own for three days. Be sure to include winter specific items such as rock salt to melt ice on walkways, sand to improve traction, snow shovels and other snow removal equipment. Also, prepare for possible isolation in your home. Have extra warm clothing, including hats and gloves, and make sure to have sufficient heating fuel. If you utilize a portable fuel-based heater, make certain to have proper ventilation. Winterize your home in advance by insulating walls, caulking and weather stripping doors and windows and installing storm windows or plastic sheeting. Maintain an adequate supply of medicine, water and food that needs no cooking or vegetation. If a winter storm occurs, listen to the radio or television for weather reports and other emergency information.
Extreme Heat (Heat Wave)
Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. Under normal conditions, the body’s internal thermostat produces perspiration that evaporates and cools the body. However, in extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature.
Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. The elderly, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.
Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Also, asphalt and concrete store longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the urban heat island effect.
Various terms are associated with extreme heat. A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity. The heat index refers to the number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that describes how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees. Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble with the heat. Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim’s condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke. Heat stroke is life threatening. The victim’s temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly. Sometimes it is also called sun stroke.
To deal with cases of extreme heat, there are various preparedness measures that can be taken. The installation of air conditioners and insulation may help. Also, heat registers should be closed. Circulating or box fans may also provide some relief in spreading cool air. Staying indoors will minimize risks as well as eating a well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water, even if you feel you are not thirsty. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician. Limit the intake of alcoholic beverages, as they may actually increase the rate of the body’s dehydration. Have plenty of extra water stored at home. Dress in loose fitting clothes that cover as much of the skin as possible. Avoid strenuous activity. Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles. Check on family, friends and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can uproot trees, destroy buildings and turn harmless objects into deadly missiles. They can devastate a community in seconds.
A tornado appears as a rotating funnel-shaped cloud that extends to the ground with whirling winds that can reach 300 miles per hour. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. Most states are at some risk for this hazard. Illinois is one of them. Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., but they can occur at any time of the day or night.
There are two types of tornado threats, tornado watches and tornado warnings. A tornado watch means that tornadoes are possible. You are asked to remain alert for approaching storms and to listen to your battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio or local radio/television outlets for updated reports. A tornado warning indicates that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. You should take shelter immediately.
The Village of La Grange Park uses emergency warning sirens to signal an approaching tornado. The sirens emit a continuous warning for three minutes. The sirens are tested on the first Tuesday of every month at 10:00 a.m. If you hear the siren at any other time, you should take cover immediately. The siren does not sound for the entire duration of a tornado warning. Do not assume that the danger has passed when the siren stops sounding. Stay inside, preferably in a basement and away from outside walls, windows, mirrors, glass, overhead fixtures and unsecured cabinets or bookcases. Monitor your weather via radio or television until the tornado warning has been lifted.
After a tornado, watch for broken glass, downed power lines, damaged trees that may fall, as well as holes in the street or sidewalks. Use caution when entering a damaged building and be sure that the walls, ceiling and roof are in place and that the structure rests firmly on the foundation. Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.