Protect Yourself

RETURN TO FLOODPLAIN MANAGEMENT HOME

 

How to Prepare for a Flooding Event

Protect Yourself

  • Assemble a disaster supply kit
  • Be prepared to evacuate
  • Review your Family Disaster Plan
Flooding Kit

For more details please click on the link http://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit

Protect your Property from Hazard

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  • Move valuables and furniture to higher levels.
  • Move hazardous materials (such as paint, oil, pesticides, and cleaning supplies) to higher locations.
  • Disconnect electrical appliances and do not touch them if you are wet or standing in water.
  • Bring outside possessions indoors or tie them down securely. This includes lawn furniture, garbage cans, and other movable objects.
  • Purchase Flood Insurance
  • Check your downspout –drain away from the house to prevent basement flooding.

How to Respond to a Flooding Event

If a flood is likely in your area, you should:

  • Listen to the radio or television for information and follow all instructions for your area.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground. Do not wait for instructions to move.
  • Be aware of stream, drainage channels, canyons and other areas known to flood suddenly. Flash floods can occur in these areas with or without typical warnings such as rain clouds or heavy rain.
  • If you must prepare to evacuate, you should do the following:
  • Secure your home. If you have time, bring in outdoor furniture. Move essential items to an upper floor.
  • Turn off utilities at the main switches or valves if instructed to do so. Disconnect electrical appliances. Do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water.
  • If you have to leave your home, remember these evacuation tips:
    • Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of fast flowing water can sweep you off your feet. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
    • Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground where water is not moving or not more than a few inches deep. You and the vehicle can be swept away quickly. If your vehicle is trapped in rapidly moving water, stay in the vehicle. If the water is rising inside the vehicle, seek refuge on the roof.
    • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams, rivers or creeks, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • The following are important points to remember when driving in flood conditions:
    • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars causing loss of control and possible stalling. PEP-Flood_image017
    • A foot of water will float many vehicles
    • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles (SUV’s) and pick-ups.
    • Do not attempt to drive through a flooded road. The depth of water is not always obvious. The road bed may be washed out under the water, and you could be stranded or trapped.
    • Do not drive around a barricade. Barricades are there for your protection. Turn around and go the other way.
    • Do not try to take short cuts, as they may be blocked. Stick to designated evacuation routes.
    • Be especially cautious driving at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

 

How to Protect your Property:

  • Turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve if evacuation is likely.
  • Place furniture on beds, then personal items on top of the furniture.
  • Anchor, secure or weigh down items that may float or move and become “battering rams.”
  • Place glass items in plastic bags to prevent pieces from spreading if breakage occurs.
  • Put chemicals in waterproof containers and move to higher ground.
  • Avoid backflow of sewer lines by closing off all sewer line entries into your house.

How to Recover from a Flooding Event

Although floodwaters may be down in some areas, many dangers still exist. Here are some things to remember in the days ahead:

  • Use Birmingham Jefferson County Emergency Alert systems to get information and expert informed advice as soon as available.
  • Avoid moving water.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless your assistance has been specifically requested by police, fire, or other relief organizations.
  • Emergency workers will be assisting people in flooded areas. You can help them by staying off the roads and out of the way.PEP-Flood_image018
  • Play it safe. Additional flooding or flash floods can occur. If your car stalls in rapidly rising waters, get out immediately and climb to higher ground.
  • Return home only when authorities indicate it is safe.
  • Roads may still be closed because they have been damaged or are covered by water. Barricades have been placed for your protection. If you come upon a barricade or a flooded road, go another way.
  • If you must walk or drive in areas that have been flooded.
    • Stay on firm ground. Moving water only 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. Standing water may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
    • Flooding may have caused familiar places to change. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways. Flood debris may hide animals and broken bottles, and it’s also slippery. Avoid walking or driving through it.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • Stay out of any building if it is surrounded by floodwaters.
  • Use extreme caution when entering buildings; there may be hidden damage, particularly in foundations.
  • Be alert for gas leaks
  • Do not strike a match or use an open flame when entering your home after a flood unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been ventilated.
  • Watch out for mold growth
  • Within days of being soaked, dry walls, upholstered furniture and wooden fixtures may develop mold and mildew. These can be health hazards.

Staying Healthy

  • A flood can cause physical hazards and emotional stress. You need to look after yourself and your family as you focus on cleanup and repair.
  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage.
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits and leaching systems as soon as possible. Damaged sewer systems are serious health hazards.
  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwaters can contain sewage and chemicals.
  • Rest often and eat well.
  • Keep a manageable schedule. Make a list and do jobs one at a time.
  • Discuss your concerns with others and seek help. Contact Red Cross for information on emotional support available in your area.
  • The Red Cross can provide you with a cleanup kit: mop, broom, bucket, and cleaning supplies.

Get a copy of the book “Repairing Your Flooded Home which is available free from the American Red Cross or your state or local emergency manager.

When it comes to severe weather, planning ahead can save your life. Think about your home, office, school, church or anywhere else you or your family may be during the imminent threat of weather. Do you have a reliable way to receive weather warnings? Do you know where you can take cover? Do you have enough food and emergency supplies to help you endure several days without power? The answers to these and other questions could make a major difference when severe weather strikes. Provided below is a link to a booklet that examines all types of severe weather to assist you with knowing what to do before an event, during an event, and after an event.   Alabama is prone to many different types of severe weather; therefore, it is important to understand the threats and plan ahead. The time you invest in preparation now can make all the difference in the future.

http://www.srh.noaa.gov/images/bmx/aware/swaw_2013/2013_booklet.pdf

WINTER STORM

What is a Winter Storm?

Winter storms are among nature’s most impressive weather spectacles. Their combination of heavy snow, freezing rain, and high winds can totally disrupt modern operations; closing down airports and roads, creating power outages, and downing telephone lines. Winter storms remind us of how vulnerable we are to nature’s awesome power. Winter storm occurs when there is significant precipitation and the temperature is low enough that precipitation forms as sleet or snow, or when rain turns to ice. A winter storm can range from freezing rain and ice, to moderate snowfall over a few hours, to a blizzard that lasts for several days, or be a combination of several winter weather conditions. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures. Winter storms can occur from early autumn to late spring depending on the region of the country. Ice and heavy snowfall can knock out heat, power, and communications services for several days. Driving and walking can become extremely hazardous due to icy conditions, snowfall accumulation, low visibility, or extreme cold. People may need to stay at home or work without utilities or other services, until driving is safe. Pipes and water mains can also break during a winter storm.

Winter storms are uncommon in this region; however, Birmingham has experienced at least three major winter storm events with one occurring on, 2015, where we received 1 inch of snow which caused delays and panic. In 2014, the “Snowpocalypse” hit, which left numerous people stranded on roadways all across the state due to sleet and ice resulting in impassable roads and abandoned cars along the interstate. In 1993, the “Storm of the Century” caused a record proportion of snowfall along with 40-50 mph winds. The entire event resulted in the death of 14 individuals and over $50 million in damages across the State of Alabama.

The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as the “Deceptive Killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm as people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold.. Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.  It’s important to note that one of the primary concerns is the winter weather’s ability to knock out heat, power and communications services to your home or office, sometimes for days at a time. Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region.  It is important to be prepared for winter weather before it strikes.

Utilize the following guidelines to Prepare, Respond and Recover from a winter storm.

Prepare

To begin preparing, you should:

  • Assemble a disaster supply kit
  • Be prepared to evacuate
  • Review your Family Disaster Plan

According to Ready.gov,

Consider Winterizing Your Vehicle:

Have a professional mechanic check your car including but not limited to these areas:

  • Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery
  • terminals should be clean.
  • Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels
  • Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair
  • or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually
  • gives no warning
  • Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing
  • Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights – check for serviceability
  • Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well
  • Thermostat – ensure it works properly
  • Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level
  • Install good winter tires – Make sure the tires have adequate tread

All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions.   However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on  their roads vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.

Consider Winterizing Your Home

  • Winterize your home or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather- stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or  covering windows with plastic.
  • Clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected regularly.
  • Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Vent all fuel-burning equipment to the outside and keep clear. Carbon monoxide (CO) – an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it – from these sources can build up in your home, garage or camper and poison the people  and animals inside. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk, as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Hire a contractor to check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow – or water, if drains on flat roofs do not work.

Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a winter storm hazard:

  • Winter Weather Advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.
  • Winter Storm Watch – A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information.
  • Winter Storm Warning – A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
  • Blizzard Warning – Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning – Below freezing temperatures are expected.

Floodplain_TamikaMoore_credit

An aerial shot of Interstate 65 near U.S. 31 in the Birmingham area. (Photo Credit:  Tamika Moore/tmoore@al.com)

Respond

  • Stay indoors and avoid driving as much as possible.
  • Close unused rooms during power outages to consolidate and  retain heat.
  • Wear layered clothing and use blankets or sleeping bags to stay warm.
  • Bring pets inside.
  • Never use generators, outdoor heating or cooking equipment, such as a grill, camp stove, or a gasoline or propane heater, indoors.
  • Never heat a home with a stove.
  • Keep disaster supplies in your vehicle, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped, and use extra precaution on the roads.
  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing several layers of warm, loose fitting, light-weight clothing.

Recover

  • Protect yourself from dangerous weather, drive if necessary.  Set up warming shelters in your community if the power is out for more than a few days.
  • Go to a shelter if you do not have adequate supplies to stay warm in your home.
  • Dress in warm clothing, stay dry, and avoid prolonged exposure to cold and wind to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to cold and wind to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia. If you have to go outside dress in warm clothing, stay dry.

EXTREME WIND EVENTS

What is an Extreme Wind Event?

“Wind event” is a general term that encompasses other terms that Birmingham is all too familiar with. The term includes events such as tornados, straight-line winds, and other damaging events. Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Spawned from powerful thunderstorms, tornadoes can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds. A tornado appears as a rotating, funnel-shaped cloud that extends from a thunderstorm 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.  Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or nearby low-hanging clouds obscure others. Occasionally, tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible. Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. A cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

Records show that the state leads the nation in experiencing the most dangerous tornadic events since 1966. The most recent tornadic event, April 27, 2011, wreaked havoc across the state of Alabama. It was an F-4 that resulted in 1500 reported injuries and 65 deaths throughout the City of Birmingham and neighboring cities. In Alabama, peak tornado season is generally March through May with a secondary season in late fall; however tornadoes can strike at any time of the year if the essential conditions are present.  Tornadoes in the peak season are often associated with strong, frontal systems that form in central states and move east. Straight line winds, on the other hand, and tornados cause similar damage. The difference between the two is, a tornado forms when uneven temperatures across a frontal boundary cause wind shear, strong winds moving in different directions. If conditions are right, the wind movement will become circular, drawing energy into the vortex and forming a tornado. Straight line winds, on the other hand, occur when a column of rain-cooled air sinks rapidly, striking the ground and fanning out in all directions as a strong burst of winds. Tornadoes scatter objects all over because they rotate so quickly. However, the lack of rotation, or spin, in “straight-line winds” allows meteorologists to differentiate damage from tornadic winds.

Straight line winds are an extremely short-lived weather phenomena that can form and dissipate within moments, making them extremely dangerous due to their unpredictability. The term “straight-line winds” is used to describe ground-level winds that come out of a thunderstorm and do not have rotation. Storms with severe straight-line winds can also have hail and tornadoes. Straight-line winds can cause considerable damage because these winds often do not let up. Straight-line winds will push objects over, all in the same direction as the wind is blowing.  These winds can be hazardous as they can push over objects that land on top of people, causing injury and death.

Quick facts you should know about tornadoes:

  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.
  • Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer.
  • Tornadoes mostly happen between 3 pm and 9 pm, but can occur at any time, according to NOAA.

Quick facts you should know about straight line winds:

  • Damaging straight line winds can cause damage just like a tornado.
  • You can have twisting type damage with a microburst due to the turbulance generated by the air parcel after hitting the ground at extremely high speeds.
  • A loud roar can also be associated with straight line winds, much like a tornado.
  • All severe storms have low level vertical wind shear, including those that don’t produce a tornado.

Utilize the following guidelines to Prepare, Respond and Recover from extreme wind events.

Prepare

To begin preparing, you should:

  • Assemble a disaster supply kit
  • Be prepared to evacuate
  • Review your Family Disaster Plan

For more details, please refer to Building a Disaster Ready Kit and Preparing a Family Communications Plan in Appendix A.

Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or to commercial radio or  television newscasts for the latest information. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency.

Be alert to changing weather conditions.

Look for the following danger signs when storms are approaching:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train

If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.

Resident Options

Build a Safe Room

Extreme windstorms in many parts of the country pose a serious threat to buildings and their occupants. Your residence may be built “to code” but that does not mean it can withstand winds from extreme events such as tornadoes and major hurricanes. The purpose of a safe room or a wind shelter is to provide a space where you and your family can seek refuge that provides a high level of protection.

You can build a safe room in one of several places in your home:

  • Your basement
  • Atop a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or garage floor
  • An interior room on the first floor

Safe rooms built below ground level provide the greatest protection, but a safe room built in a first-floor interior room also can provide the necessary protection. Below-ground safe rooms must be designed to avoid accumulating water during the heavy rains that often accompany severe windstorms.

To protect its occupants, a safe room must be built to withstand high winds and flying debris, even if the rest of the residence is severely damaged or destroyed. Consider the following when building a safe room:

  • The safe room must be adequately anchored to resist overturning and uplift.
  • The walls, ceiling and door of the shelter must withstand wind pressure and resist penetration by windborne objects and falling debris.
  • The connections between all parts of the safe room must be strong enough to resist the wind.
  • Sections of either interior or exterior residence walls that are used as walls of the safe room must be separated from the structure of the residence so that damage to the residence will not cause damage to the safe room. If you are interested in finding out more about  individual saferoom for personal property please contact Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency at 205-254-2039.

Also, community safe rooms are available throughout Birmingham. If you are interested in finding out more about Community Safe Room locations please contact Floodplain Management & Disaster Mitigation Services Section at 205-254-2479.

Respond

If you are in a structure (e.g. residence, small building, school, nursing home, hospital, factory, shopping center, high-rise building, manufactured home/office)

  • Go to a pre-designated area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of a small interior room on the lowest level (i.e. closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls.
  • Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
  • Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • Put on sturdy shoes.
  • Do not open windows.
  • Get out immediately if you are in a manufactured home or manufactured office and go to a pre-identified location such as the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter.
  • Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.

If you are outside with no shelter

  • Buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter if you are in a vehicle. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
  • Take cover in a stationary vehicle. Put the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
  • Lie in an area noticeably lower than the level of the roadway and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
  • Never try to outrun a tornado.
  • Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

Recover

Injury may result from the direct impact of a tornado or it may occur afterward when people walk among debris and enter damaged buildings.

Injuries

Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical assistance immediately. If someone has stopped breathing, begin CPR if you are trained to do so. A common procedure to stop bleeding of a mild injury is applying direct pressure to the wound. Have any puncture wound evaluated by a physician. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.

General Safety Precautions

Here are some safety precautions that could help you avoid injury after a tornado:

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
  • Be careful when entering any structure that has been damaged.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Be aware of hazards from exposed nails and broken glass.
  • Do not touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Report electrical hazards to the police and the utility company.
  • Use battery-powered lanterns, if possible, rather than candles to light homes without electrical power. If you use candles, make sure they are in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood or other flammable items. Never leave a candle burning when you are out of the room.
  • Never use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper – or even outside near an open window, door or vent. Carbon monoxide (CO) – an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it – from these sources can build up in your home, garage or camper and poison the people and animals inside. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
  • Hang up displaced telephone receivers that may have been knocked off by the tornado, but stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency.
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials.
  • Respond to requests for volunteer assistance by police, fire fighters, emergency management and relief organizations, but do not go into damaged areas unless assistance has been requested. Your presence could hamper relief efforts and you could endanger yourself.

Inspecting the Damage

  • After a tornado, be aware of possible structural, electrical or gas- leak hazards in your home. Contact your local city or county building inspectors for information on structural safety codes and standards. They may also offer suggestions on finding a qualified contractor to do work for you.
  • In general, if you suspect any damage to your home, shut off electrical power, natural gas and propane tanks to avoid fire, electrocution or explosions.
  • If it is dark when you are inspecting your home, use a flashlight rather than a candle or torch to avoid the risk of fire or explosion in a damaged home.
  • If you see exposed wiring or sparks, or if there is an odor of something burning, you should immediately shut off the done electrical system at the main circuit breaker if you have not done so already.
  • If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve, open all windows and leave the house immediately. Notify the gas company, the police or fire departments, or State of Alabama Fire Marshal’s Office and do not turn on the lights, light matches smoke or do anything that could cause a spark.
  • Do not return to your house until you are told it is safe to do so.

Safety During Clean Up

  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves.
  • Learn proper safety procedures and operating instructions before operating any gas-powered or electric-powered saws or tools.
  • Clean up spilled medicines, drugs, flammable liquids and other potentially hazardous materials and dispose of them properly.
  • Contact the Health Department on how to properly dispose of hazardous wastes.