This month, the old adage “A stitch in time saves nine” takes on new meaning. Each September since 2004, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has observed National Preparedness Month. During September, FEMA and many other agencies, on local, state, and federal levels, encourage U.S. residents to become better prepared for emergencies and disasters.
It is so easy to think that natural disasters and other unexpected events happen only to other people. Or to agree that preparedness is a good thing and resolve to do it some day, when we have extra time. The National Weather Service warns, “We’ve seen tornado outbreaks, river floods and flash floods, historic earthquakes, tsunamis, and even water main breaks and power outages in U.S. cities affecting millions of people for days at a time. Police, fire and rescue may not always be able to reach you quickly in an emergency or disaster. The most important step you can take in helping your local responders is being able to take care of yourself and those in your care; the more people who are prepared, the quicker the community will recover.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Red Cross urge a 3-step plan:
- Get a Kit. Gather emergency supplies, including a gallon of water per person for each day, and plan on at least three days. Other suggested items and specifics for children and pets are here: http://emergency.cdc.gov/preparedness/kit/disasters/
- Make a Plan. Pick two places you will meet, one right outside your home and one outside the neighborhood. Decide how you will contact each other. The Safe and Well website is one way to let others know you are safe. https://safeandwell.communityos.org/zf/safesearch/search
- Be Informed. Understand what “quarantine” and “isolation” mean. Learn how to “shelter in place.”
In South Carolina, the Emergency Management Division of the Adjutant General’s Office is responsible for the development, coordination, and maintenance of the South Carolina Emergency Operations Plan, Hurricane Plan, Earthquake Plan, and Terrorism Plan, among others. They also oversee training of state and county emergency planners and response personnel and execute state emergency management exercises.
South Carolina is among the states most vulnerable to hurricane damage, and we are accustomed to keeping an eye on tropical weather systems. However, the SC Emergency Management Division urges preparedness for a wide variety of potential disasters. Consider the following:
- In a typical year, South Carolina responds to over 5,000 wildfires, which burn nearly 30,000 acres.
- Approximately 10 to 15 earthquakes are recorded annually in South Carolina with 3 to 5 of them felt or noticed by people.
- South Carolina has over 50,000 dams throughout the state, including 34 federally regulated dams and over 2,317 state regulated dams. At any time, one or more of these dams may be threatened by upstream flash floods, earthquakes, neglect or any combination of the above.
- South Carolina has four nuclear power facilities and two closely located in neighboring states.
The Division’s website (www.scemd.org) gives specific preparedness information for tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, dam failure, wildfires, nuclear power plant disasters, terrorism and other unexpected events. We encourage you to become informed and ready for these unpleasant surprises.
Residents of Colorado have recently been victims of historic flooding. At this writing, at least five people were confirmed dead, roads and bridges wiped out, and about 1,500 homes destroyed, according to Colorado Office of Emergency Management officials.
South Carolina’s low-lying topography, combined with its humid subtropical climate, makes it highly vulnerable to inland flooding. The largest such flood in South Carolina occurred in 1903, the Pacolet River rose as much as 40 feet in an hour, resulting in the deaths of sixty-five people. The state is also vulnerable to coastal flooding from tropical storms or hurricanes. In 1999, three tropical systems resulted in over 24 inches of rain in Horry County. The Waccamaw River and tributaries caused significant flooding throughout northeastern South Carolina.
Yes, it is possible to prepare for a flood. These are the recommendations of the SC Emergency Management Division:
- If you build in a floodprone area, elevate and reinforce your home and elevate the furnace, water heater and electric panel.
- Install “check valves” in sewer traps to prevent floodwater from backing up into the drains of your home.
- Seal the walls in your basement with waterproofing compounds to avoid seepage.
- Review your insurance policy. Flood coverage is not part of most homeowner, mobile home or renter’s insurance policies. There is a 30-day waiting period for coverage to take effect.
- If there is any possibility of a flash flood, move to higher ground. Do not wait to be told to move.
- If time allows, prepare your home for a flood by moving essential items to an upper floor, bring in outdoor furniture, disconnect electrical appliances and be prepared to turn off the gas, electricity and water.
- Do not walk through moving water. Six inches of moving water can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving. Use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If floodwaters rise around your car, abandon the car and move to higher ground if you can do so safely. You and the vehicle can be quickly swept away.
- After a flood, listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink.
- Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline or raw sewage. Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
- Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded. Even if the roadway of a bridge or elevated highway looks normal, the support structures below may be damaged.
- Stay clear of downed power lines and report them to your power company.
- Clean and disinfect everything that got wet. Mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and other harmful chemicals.