January 22, 2007
Winter weather that has recently hit much of the country
has been a challenge for many. Whatever the emergency, it
can be easier to handle for someone who is prepared.
"A large section of the Plains, as well as areas of
Arizona, Texas and New Mexico were recovering after a wave
of storms over the weekend and Monday brought snow, ice and
strong winds. Harsh, frigid conditions were blamed for at
least 11 traffic fatalities in the Plains. ... Southern New
Mexico picked up 9 inches on snow on Sunday and Monday,
closing 145 miles of Interstate 25, the state's major
north-south highway. ... Winter weather has also hit hard
on the East Coast, bringing snow, sleet and freezing rain
to Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Maryland and making
roads treacherous. ... On Sunday, officials closed a long
stretch of Interstate 70, from near Denver International
Airport almost to the Kansas state line because of high
winds, blowing snow, poor visibility and ice. The road had
reopened by Monday morning."
Roads were closed and motorists were stranded. While
drivers can't prevent road closures, it is important for
them to prepare themselves and their vehicles for winter
"You can avoid many dangerous winter travel problems by
planning ahead. Have maintenance service on your vehicle as
often as the manufacturer recommends. In addition, every
fall: Have the radiator system serviced, or check the
antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add
antifreeze, as needed. Replace windshield-wiper fluid with
a wintertime mixture. Replace any worn tires, and check the
air pressure in the tires. During winter, keep the gas tank
near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines."
Once the mechanics of the car are taken care of, there is
the matter of properly stocking it.
"Equip your car with these items:
* first aid kit
* a can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for water)
* windshield scraper
* booster cables
* road maps
* mobile phone
* tool kit
* paper towels
* bag of sand or cat litter (to pour on ice or snow for
* tow rope
* tire chains (in areas with heavy snow)
* collapsible shovel
* container of water and high-calorie canned or dried foods
and a can opener
* flashlight and extra batteries
* canned compressed air with sealant (for emergency tire
* brightly colored cloth"
Even the most well prepared driver can get stuck in the
worst of winter weather. What then?
"Staying in your vehicle when stranded is often the safest
choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if
roadways are ice covered. These steps will increase your
safety when stranded:
* Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal
to rescuers and raise the hood of the car (if it is not
* Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger
* Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra
clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
* Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related
* Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour,
opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure that
snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe--this will reduce the
risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
* As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve
your circulation and stay warmer.
* Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body
* Huddle with other people for warmth.
If driving conditions are too bad, it is often better to
just stay home. Disaster preparedness is important in the
home for more than just winter, but what one might want in
the aftermath of a a summer tornado may have minor
variations from what one might need to weather a winter
storm. Either way, some of the "side effects" can be the
same, like power outages...
"In Oklahoma, where an ice storm disrupted power to as many
as 125,000 homes and businesses more than a week ago, about
17,000 electrical customers remained without power early
Monday -- mostly in the eastern part of the state.
Hundreds of utility linemen worked through the night in
hopes of restoring power by Monday or today, authorities
said. But for some rural customers, it could be at least
another week before the electricity is back on."
Most people at one time have lost power in their homes.
Most people are also not prepared to live without power for
over a week in January weather and temperatures.
Warnings abound about what NOT to do so that you can avoid
carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of these guidelines apply
to any season, though most people are not trying to heat
their homes in the summer:
"* Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or
other gasoline or charcoal-burning device
inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.
* Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your
house, even if you leave the door open.
* Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't
* Don't heat your house with a gas oven."
It is clear what NOT to do, but there is still the question
of what TO do in order to stay safe and healthy if there is
a winter weather emergency where you live.
As mentioned before, the key is to plan ahead. This does
not mean to start planning when the forecasters first
announce that the storm is on its way (though if no plan is
in place by this point, it would be good to start working
on something), but the goal is to plan for the storm before
there is even the mention that it may come.
The following guidelines (most, if not all) will be useful
for anyone in any circumstance. They were specifically
written for people with disabilities and special needs, but
the main ideas with each point would be good for everyone
to think about.
(More details about each point can be found at the above
- "Know what kinds of disasters could happen in your area
- "Complete a personal assessment. ...
- "Create a personal support network ...
- "Make an emergency information list ...
- "Compile a medical information list ...
- "Keep at least a seven-day supply of medications on hand.
- "Install at least one smoke alarm on each level of your
home ... Know the location of main utility cutoff valves
and learn how and when to disconnect them during an
emergency. Identify evacuation routes and safe places to go
during a disaster. ...
- "Complete a summary checklist to make sure that your
personal disaster plan is comprehensive...
- "Keep a disaster supply kit in your home, car, workplace
or anywhere you may spend your time. ...
- "Make your home or office safer by checking hallways,
stairwells, doorways, windows and other areas for hazards
that may keep you from safely leaving a building during an
Just as plan that each family creates will be different,
the contents of the disaster supply kit that each family
needs vary, as well. For everyone:
"Recommended Items to Include in a Basic Emergency Supply
* Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at
least three days, for drinking and sanitation
* Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
* Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather
Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
* Flashlight and extra batteries
* First aid kit
* Whistle to signal for help
* Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic
sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
* Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for
* Wrench or pliers to turn off utilitiesv
* Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
* Local maps"
For those with unique (or not so unique) additional needs:
"Additional Items to Consider Adding to an Emergency Supply
* Prescription medications and glasses
* Infant formula and diapers
* Pet food and extra water for your pet
* Important family documents ...
* Cash or traveler's checks and change
* Emergency reference material such as a first aid book...
* Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. ...
* Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved
shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. ...
* Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper --
diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be
used as a disinfectant. ...
* Fire Extinguisher
* Matches in a waterproof container
* Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
* Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper
* Paper and pencil
* Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children"
People can prepare their homes and their cars for any
situation, but much of our waking day is typically spent at
work or school.
"You may also want to inquire about emergency plans at
places where your family spends time: work, daycare and
school. If no plans exist, consider volunteering to help
create one. Talk to your neighbors about how you can work
together in the event of an emergency. You will be better
prepared to safely reunite your family and loved ones
during an emergency if you think ahead and communicate with
others in advance."
Questions of the Week:
What preparation steps should you take to be ready for
winter weather where you live and travel? What winter
weather hazards are an issue normally? What unexpected
situations should you prepare for "just in case"? How might
these preparations be different from someone who lives in a
different part of the country? How might they be the same?
How do winter preparations differ from those for other
times of year? What preparations are a good idea no matter
what the season?
What emergency preparedness plans are not in your control
because they are taken care of by your parents, or someone
else at your work or school? How can you help make sure
these plans will meet your needs and the needs of the
others who might be in that location during an emergency?
How might the needs of different people vary during an
emergency? How can a general emergency plan meet all of
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum