Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard about the deadly 2016 snowstorm that clobbered the East Coast, buried cars, halted public transit and killed 42 people. The storm dropped snow from the Gulf Coast to New England, with near-record snowfalls from Washington, D.C. to New York City.
Storm preparation is one of those topics that we really don’t discuss until right before a big storm hits. Super snowstorms are dangerous because they come with freezing rain, high winds and subzero temps that can be debilitating. Thus, this is a good time to share some helpful tips on how to get ahead for a winter home emergency.
One of the biggest concerns in the winter is your ability to survive when your heat, power and communications services have been disrupted for days at a time. Here are some reminders to help you and your loved ones stay safe:
Create a Storm Preparedness Kit
There are a number of essentials to buy in advance. Your kit may include:
- A battery-powered flashlight
- Drinking water
- Non-perishable food
- A first-aid kit
- Maintenance medications
- A tool kit
- A bag of rock salt
- Snow shovels or snow removal equipment
- Extra blankets and clothing
Plan for the worst-case scenario by keeping a week’s worth of food and safety supplies. If you live in a remote location, keep more supplies on hand.
It’s easier to stay warm than get warm. Follow some of these tips to stay warm during a storm. This includes stockpiling wood if you have a fireplace or storing heating fuel if you own a wood-burning stove.
A portable space heater is convenient and works well. But remember to keep it at least three feet away from furniture and drapery. Also keep the space heater on the floor and out of reach of children. And if you have access to an outside generator, have an electric cord long enough to keep the generator at least 20 feet from your doors, windows and vents.
If the power goes out, close off unused rooms to consolidate and retain heat. Don’t forget to wear layered clothing and use blankets or sleeping bags to stay warm.
It’s also important to remember your furry friends! If you own an outdoor pet, bring them inside during severe conditions.
It’s equally as important to remember what not to do in winter emergencies. Never heat your house with your oven and avoid using candles as they pose a fire hazard. Never use gasoline indoors where fumes can ignite.
Make a Family Emergency Plan
According to the Red Cross, your emergency plan should outline how your family will communicate with one another and how you will get together in the event you’re separated. Outline what your family plans to do if an emergency hits and who has specific responsibilities to work as a team.
Designate an emergency contact person who will receive everyone’s calls or text messages with their status information. Also create an evacuation plan that identifies where you will reunite and which route is the best to take. Your family should do a trial run at least twice a year. Don’t forget to include a strategy for evacuating your pets, too.
Download the resource “Be Smart. Take Part. Know Your Alerts and Warnings” for a summary of emergency notifications. Free smart phone apps, such as the ones provided by American Red Cross, provide information about finding shelters, providing first aid, and seeking assistance for recovery.
Stay Plugged In
Weather conditions can change at the drop of a hat, so stay tuned in to your local news via radio or television to get critical information from the National Weather Service.
Always keep your cell phone and a charger nearby. Your cell phone could be your lifeline when you’re cooped up due to bad weather conditions. Buy a battery-powered radio and extra batteries. You may also sign up in advance to receive emergency notifications from your local weather service.
If your community experiences a disaster, register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website to let your family and friends know you’re safe. You can also call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) and select the prompt for “Disaster” to register.
Stay Home if Possible
Keeping you and your family safe is your top priority in a winter emergency. Minimize your travel since driving and walking can be hazardous due to icy conditions, snowfall accumulation, low visibility and extreme cold. Unfortunately, many snowstorm deaths aren’t the result of direct storm impact, rather indirect due to traffic accidents on icy roads or due to frostbite or hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold.
While at home, avoid overexertion when shoveling snow; overexertion can bring on a heart attack — a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside, layer your clothing to stay warm, and stop to take frequent breaks.
If driving is absolutely necessary, see our article from 2015 with winter driving tips. Keep disaster supplies in your vehicle, make sure your vehicle is properly equipped, and use extra precaution on the roads. If the power is out for more than a few days, your community may have warming shelters. If you don’t have adequate supplies to stay warm in your home and you can get there safely, considering going to a shelter.
Above all else, use common sense when making decisions on how to survive in a winter storm. It’s always better to play it safe and stay in close communication with your friends and family.
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