OEM director advises to be aware of severe weather


 Spring means warmer weather and outside activities. It brings birds and fresh leaves and grass. It also brings storms, and, in Tennessee, those can sometimes become severe quickly.

Matt McBride, White County Office of Emergency Management director, said having a plan in place for when severe weather hits is an important part of making sure families are prepared for the changes in weather that occur this time of year.

“Knowing where the best place to retreat to in the case of a weather emergency is the first step,” he said. “If you don’t have a storm shelter or basement, knowing which room is the most secure, the best at keeping you safe and not having to think about that in an emergency is going to save you time – time that could make a difference.”

McBride said the most interior room of a house is the best. If a room has windows, it isn’t as safe as one without, which is why bathrooms and closets are often looked at as safe spaces in the event of a severe weather emergency.

McBride also had a list of other items to make sure are part of a severe weather plan for any home:

  • Emergency lighting – having flashlights with fresh batteries and candles in the event that power lines are down and visibility is poor.
  • Weather radio with back-up batteries – McBride said Broadway Hardware in Sparta has a good supply of weather radios.

 “It’s important to make sure that the weather radio is programmed before a storm is expected. Some people even like to expand the parameters to include surrounding counties so that they can be alerted to when something is traveling in this direction,” he said, adding that most weather radios come with relatively clear instructions on how to program them. “But, if anyone needs help or wants to make sure that theirs is programmed properly, they can call my office. I am more than happy to help them.”

  • Keep a small bag packed with essentials – Dry clothes, three to five days of prescription medications, charging cords, things that might be needed should you be displaced and have to move to a new location or hotel for a few days.
  • Battery operated carbon monoxide alarms

“In the event that a home is without power for any length of time, residents who use gas for heating, cooking, hot water, or other appliances, may be susceptible to excess carbon monoxide in their homes and be unaware,” McBride explained. “Having those alarms powered by battery can prevent a variety of health concerns from carbon monoxide poisoning.”

  • Sufficient amounts of fuel in vehicles – should power be out on a large-scale grid, getting fuel from convenience stations may not be possible in the immediate aftermath of a storm. Making sure that personal vehicles have enough fuel to get to shelter, medical care, or even work is something that needs to be thought about ahead of time.

McBride said it is also important to be at home when there is a threat of severe weather. He warns that residents should be sure to leave enough time to travel from where they might be to their safe place so as not to be caught on the roads during severe weather events.

“We don’t want you to get stranded between places due to downed power lines or trees across roadways,” McBride said, “and, of course, the obvious is that in the event of high winds, a car is definitely not a safe place to be.”

Wind isn’t the only potential road hazard during storm times. McBride said any water that is over six inches deep and flowing is considered swift water and can make getting vehicles across roadways unsafe. He added that in the dark – whether that is due to storm clouds or time of day – it is difficult to tell how deep water, whether standing or moving, on a roadway is.

“Turn around, don’t drown,” McBride quoted the old adage, saying the mantra has stuck throughout the years because it is the best piece of advice that can be given to drivers.

McBride went on to say it’s important for residents who have storm shelters on their properties to let the appropriate emergency departments know that and said there is a link on the White County executive’s website that homeowners can use to register their shelter.

“Sometimes debris can blow over the entrance to a storm shelter and not only can we not see the shelter [but] the occupants may not be able to get the door open,” he explained. “If we are out checking on residents and see that a home has significant damage, we are going to start searching for residents. Knowing where to look can save valuable time.”

McBride said the online form can be completed quickly and at any time. He said it simply allows the emergency management team to drop a pin in their system, letting search and rescue personnel know a storm shelter exists on the property so that they are sure to locate that.

McBride commended the White County community for their willingness and readiness to jump into action and help neighbors and people throughout the community in times of need. However, he also warned caution was still needed during these times.

“We understand that this is a helping community and that the pride and heritage of the people here comes in our willingness to help our neighbors,” he said, “but it is difficult to tell the difference between a downed telephone line and a downed power line. We definitely don’t want anyone injured while attempting to provide aid to a neighbor.”

McBride suggested that volunteers wait for the proper authorities to clear lines and mark areas as safe before they start using chainsaws and moving obstacles.

So, as the weather turns warmer, the days get longer, and the gardens start growing, keep an eye on the skies and an ear on the weather radios, and be prepared for those severe weather events that make their way through the region.    


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