Summer is just around the corner, and while thoughts of grilling in the backyard and frolicking in the surf are on the minds of many, Sussex County emergency planners have a few other images in mind - flooded homes, snapped trees and crowded shelters. Those are the scenes of disaster, and they could easily play out in a community like Sussex County unless the public acts in advance.
As the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season gets under way Saturday, June 1, the Sussex County Emergency Operations Center encourages residents and visitors to have a plan and be prepared now, when the weather is calm. May 26 through June 1 is National Hurricane Preparedness Week, a time when coastal residents can learn more about preparing their homes and businesses for tropical weather.
The images of destruction should not be difficult for most coastal residents to imagine - it was just seven months ago that Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of New Jersey and New York, a rare late-season storm that hours before its landfall was honed in on Sussex County. In its wake, the storm left more than $70 billion in damage, and reminded the nation that tropical storms can occur far outside tropical areas, and even as the season nears its Nov. 30 end.
Preparation is key to limiting damage and preventing loss of life, said Sussex County EOC Director Joseph L. Thomas.
“Hurricane Sandy last year and Hurricane Irene the summer before should be a sobering wake-up call for the entire East Coast,” Thomas said. “Both of those storms had Sussex County and the Delmarva Peninsula in their sights. Thankfully, we were spared serious damage. But it easily could have been us. So it’s important that the public take the threat of hurricane season very seriously and prepare.”
For the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting an above-normal year, with 13 to 20 named tropical systems. Of those, seven to 11 could become hurricanes, with three to six of those possibly reaching Category 3 strength or higher, according to the NOAA’s May 23 forecast.
An average season sees 12 named storms, including six hurricanes, three classified as major. Whatever the forecast, though, residents and property owners should never be lulled into a sense of complacency, Thomas said.
“All it takes is one storm to cause untold damage and ruin lives,” Thomas said. “Better to be prepared and be spared than to not be ready and find yourself in a life-and-death situation.”
To help make the storm season safer for everyone, here are some steps that can be taken to make homes and families ready for hurricane season:
• Those who live in a flood-prone or other vulnerable area should be prepared to evacuate. Plan an evacuation route now. Emergency managers will notify the public, via the media, of what areas should evacuate and when. In the event of evacuation, take a storm kit and valuable and/or important papers. Secure the house by locking the windows and doors. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Notify a family member or someone close outside the evacuation area of the destination.
• Secure all outdoor items. Property owners also will need to secure their boats. Area residents should clear rain spouts and gutters and trim any trees that may pose a problem during high winds.
• Have a family disaster kit. This kit should include the following items:
A three-day supply of water. This should include at least one gallon of water per person per day;
Non-perishable foods and a manual can opener;
A change of clothes and shoes for each person;
A blanket or sleeping bag and pillow for each person;
Personal hygiene items;
A flashlight and extra batteries for each person;
Special needs items, such as formula and diapers for infants, as well as items needed for elderly or disabled family members;
A portable radio with extra batteries;
Money. During power outages, ATMs will not work;
Fuel. Gas pumps are also affected by power outages, so it is a good idea to have fuel in advance.
• In the event of an approaching storm, travel during daylight hours. Do not wait until the last minute to make plans or purchase gasoline and supplies. When a storm watch is issued, monitor the storm on the radio and television. An evacuation could take 24 to 36 hours prior to a storm’s onset.
• If ordered to evacuate and seek shelter elsewhere, follow the instructions of local emergency managers on where to go and when. Authorities will announce shelter locations in advance of their opening. Make provisions for pets, as many shelters will not accept animals.
• If not ordered to evacuate and the decision is made to take shelter in the home, have a disaster kit ready. Keep important papers on one's person or store them in the highest, safest place in the home, and in a waterproof container. Even if one seeks shelter in place, secure the home by locking the doors and windows. Turn off all utilities (gas, water, electric, etc.). Monitor the storm by portable radio to keep up with the latest information. Stay indoors. Try to stay in an inside room away from doors and windows.
•Use the phone sparingly. Make only essential calls and keep the calls brief. Report emergencies to 911. When reporting emergencies, identify onesself and location, making sure to speak clearly and calmly. Those with a mobile telephone should make sure it is charged and ready to use at all times. Remember, however, that cell service may be interrupted during and after the storm.
Hurricanes and tropical storms can have devastating effects. In the event a hurricane affects our area, expect polluted water, limited communications, no electricity, overflowing or backed-up sewers, undermined foundations, beach erosion and heavy damage to homes and roadways.
Do not re-enter the area until recommended to do so by local authorities. Upon re-entering the area, be aware of possible hazards such as downed trees and power lines. Be aware of debris and water on roadways. Upon re-entry, have identification and important legal papers ready to show officials proof of residency. Continue to use the emergency water supply or boil water until notified that the drinking water is safe. Take precautions to prevent fires.