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Handling Weather Emergencies

Part 1: Forward Planning Makes The Difference

By Graham McClung


At some time in our lives, many of us will face an emergency. Most will involve personal illness or injury, but severe weather, including hurricanes, thunderstorms, tornadoes and heat waves, is a very common threat. Severe weather and its after effects, such as flooding, results in numerous deaths and injuries every year, together with major property damage and loss. But we are not entirely powerless in the face of these disasters - a little time and effort now will significantly reduce the risks of death, injury and property damage. It will also help you recover much faster. Planning for emergencies is a complex subject, too big for a single article. Part 1 covers identification of the threats to you and your family, how to make sure your safety is protected, and making sure everyone knows what to do, even if you are separated. The second part considers those precious few hours before the weather becomes really threatening. Preparation is crucial to make sure your family is safe, and your home and belongings are as secure as possible.

Advance Planning - It's A Drag But It Pays Off

One of the hardest things about preparing for emergencies is finding the time. But if you live in North America, your weather is arguably the wildest on the planet. Your chances of being threatened by severe weather are very real. So at some stage (soon!) why not set aside an hour or so to do a little groundwork and prepare for when things get nasty. Involve your family - the more heads the better, and it is possible that one of you may be incapacitated in a serious emergency. Four big questions need to be answered before you can regard yourself as reasonably well prepared.

  1. What are the threats, and how can you minimize them?
  2. If you have to leave in a hurry, where will you go and how will you get there?
  3. How will the family get together or keep in contact if they are scattered between hone, work and school?
  4. What can you do now to help you handle the emergency competently, and then return to normal life quickly?

What Are The Biggest Risks?

This sounds pretty easy because you know where you live, and what sort of weather to expect as the seasons change. But when you get down to it, severe weather is often just normal weather become stronger, or bigger, or longer lasting. When considering your home, a great shortcut is to contact your local emergency management office or the Red Cross to see what information they have on your area. You should be able to find FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) hazard maps and other relevant material to help with your planning. It's also worth thinking about other places you regularly visit - the beach, the lake, relatives - and even where you go on vacation.

Shelter and Evacuation

Most severe weather emergencies arrive without much warning. You may need to leave your home and move to a safer area. Early warning and sound planning will reduce the stress of any emergency, and the first step is to be well informed. And there is no better way than to use the Weather Radio Service provided by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the EAS (Emergency Alert Service). Advisories of threats and hazards are broadcast over dedicated radio frequencies (to avoid interference from commercial broadcasts) and can be received on specially modified weather radios. More information on the Weather Radio Service and equipment can be found at Evacuations can be a matter of choice or they may be mandatory. Becoming familiar with exit routes will reduce much of the stress of having to move out fast. In some cases, such as tornadoes, you may need to use a nearby shelter. Again prior knowledge of its location and easiest access will be invaluable.

Communication Between Family Members

Emergencies often happen at the most inconvenient times. Your family may be scattered between home, work and school when the weather becomes threatening, and you may remain separated for some time until things return to normal. Work out in advance what procedures are likely to be followed - does the school have an emergency plan and shelter? How about the workplace? It will help if each family member knows what to do, and what others will be doing and where they are likely to be during an emergency. Prepare wallet sized summaries of locations and phone numbers for each family member, while cell phones should help you to keep in touch.

Long Term Plans

So far everything I've suggested assumes that you will, someday, need to act fast to protect yourself against a developing emergency. This section covers preparations which should benefit you regardless of whether an emergency arises. These includes:

Part 2 of this article reviews what to do as the weather becomes threatening. This article is adapted from a free special report on weather emergencies. It can be downloaded from While you're there, check out the rest of the site for more information on dangerous and spectacular weather.

About the author: ©2005, Graham McClung. A retired geologist, Graham McClung has had a lifelong interest in the outdoors. And where there's outdoors there's weather. He is the editor of www.home where you can find reviews and advice to help you choose and use your own home weather station. You can email him at

Handling Weather Emergencies Part 2: Home Security, Evacuation and Emergency Kits by Graham McClung