Seven years ago a tornado severely damaged the hospital, college, AEA and several homes in Creston.
Tornadoes and severe thunderstorms are a part of life in Iowa. It may not be possible to avoid damage from them, but it is possible to be prepared.
Union County Emergency Management director Jo Anne Duckworth said the first thing to do to prepare for severe weather is to sign up for emergency alerts.
The Union County Emergency Notification System is the best option in our area. It is geo-coded so that residents can get only the alerts relevant to them.
“You can pick any community you like within the county,” said Duckworth. “So if you live in Afton but you work in Creston, you might want to get both of those areas.”
Additionally, residents can pick the types of alerts they receive: warnings and/or watches for severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, blizzards, floods or all severe weather.
If evacuation is impossible for someone because of not having a vehicle or if an extended power outage would put a resident at risk because they are dependant on electricity for things like oxygen or medication that must be refrigerated, the system permits individuals to specify special needs. This allows emergency management to check on the most vulnerable people first.
“I find that very valuable in my planning processes, “Duckworth said.
The notification system has also been used for alerts such as water outages or when the city is doing smoke testing in sewers – to keep people from panicking when they see smoke and overwhelming the emergency phone system.
According to Duckworth, a communication plan is one of the most important and most overlooked parts of being prepared for severe weather. Everyone should know how to reach their family members in an emergency.
In case of an area wide emergency, families should choose an out of state contact who everybody calls to say, “This is where I am, and I’m safe.”
“It sure takes a lot of worry off the plate,” said Duckworth.
Another often overlooked preparation for a disaster is to have insurance.
Renter’s insurance is particularly important because there are rarely programs geared towards renters after a disaster.
“It can make the difference between recovering or never recovering from a loss,” Duckworth said.
Duckworth explained that residents should have two plans: a plan to stay and a plan to leave.
If the situation requires staying in their homes for an extended period, they should have three days’ worth of non-perishable food that does require cooking and three gallons of water, per person, per day, for at least three days.
For situations where evacuation is needed, residents should have a plan for how to leave and where to go.
An emergency kit in a 5-gallon bucket is an easy way to keep all of your emergency supplies together – whether you need to evacuate or not. It is relatively secure and easy to grab in an emergency.
Duckworth said the kit should include a passworded USB drive with vital information. A second USB drive should be stored in a bank box or with a trusted friend or family member out of state.
Driver’s license records, bank accounts, medical and other insurance information, prescription and pharmacy records and important phone numbers should be stored on the USB drive. The drive should also contain pictures of valuables for insurance purposes.
A battery operated radio and a flashlight with fresh batteries are important parts of the emergency kit in case of a power outage. Severe weather often leaves behind trash and debris, which can make walking dangerous without a pair of sturdy shoes. A tarp and trash bags can be useful to help keep important items dry.
Duckworth said she does not recommend keeping medication in the emergency kit. Often medication needs to be kept in a controlled environment, and it expires.
During a severe weather event, Duckworth said to heed the warnings. For tornadoes, go to a basement or an interior room with no windows.
If traveling during severe weather, the National Weather Service alerts will sound on any cell phone within reach of a cell tower in the affected area. During a tornado, it is safer to get out of the car and find a low-lying area such as a ditch. In a thunderstorm, inside the car is safest.
Duckworth recommends listening to local media during disaster events.
She said KSIB stays on the air during severe storms and does a good job of reporting information residents need to know without scaring them.
Creston doesn’t use the siren system to sound the all-clear. Duckworth said in the past it has been confusing to residents, who think there might be a new storm warning. Instead, listen for the all-clear on the radio or check the Union County Emergency Management Facebook page.
When the severe weather is over, Duckworth suggests checking on family first – using the communication plan made before the storm – and then check on neighbors.
The next step after a weather event is to report damage.
Duckworth said she only received a handful of reports after the latest flood event. She said it is essential to report all damage because it helps the county qualify for disaster assistance. In some circumstances, this also opens up an individual assistance grant program.
Report any damage to the local emergency management department or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by phone or email. Damage reports should contain the address, the type of damage, whether or not there is insurance, and repair estimates. It is helpful to provide pictures as well. Repair estimates can be reported later.
Emergency management collects the data and sends it to state and federal agencies. If funds become available, MATURA is responsible for distribution.
Union County Emergency Management Department provides training for the public to prepare for emergency or disaster situations.
‘Stop the bleed’ classes are held monthly on the second Wednesday in conjunction with Greater Regional Health. Register at the hospital to attend.
Emergency Management held a storm spotter class in March with more than 40 attendees. The storm spotter class is the first step in becoming a storm spotter for the National Weather Service.
CPR classes can be scheduled through the Emergency Management Department.
“If a group wants to ask me to put on a class or talk about family communication or talk about preparedness planning of any sort, give me a call... we’ll do it,” Duckworth said. “That’s part of the mission here.”
How the community can help
Community emergency response teams help respond to community emergencies. These are made up of residents who have received at least 40 hours of training. Members of the local ham radio club also provide communications support.
Duckworth said she would like to hold certification classes again if there is enough interest.
Residents with little or no training can also help by providing storm reports.
“Weather varies terrifically across the county,” Duckworth said.
When sending storm reports to emergency management, it is important to give the location, the timing of the storm — when it started, and when it stopped — the type of storm, and rain or hail amounts and size.
For more information,www.beready.iowa.gov has additional resources for emergency preparedness.