What To Do During Severe Weather And Other Emergencies

Published: Oct. 3, 2001 at 5:46 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 24, 2001 at 8:48 PM EDT
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The Louisville/Jefferson County Local Emergency Planning Committee recently released a booklet on disaster and emergency preparedness with helpful tips on what you can do to prepare and protect yourself.

An emergency can happen anywhere and anytime and it can happen to you. In an emergency situation, it is vital to think clearly and react quickly.

If an emergency occurs, it is essential for you to know what to do and what not to do. The time to find this out is before an emergency happens.

Once an emergency occurs, do not panic. Emergency information will be broadcast on the Emergency Alert System, on local radio and television stations, the NOAA weather radio and the Cable Interrupt System. But in an emergency, it is up to you to determine what action is appropriate.

Here are a few of the differently types of emergency situations you could encounter along with general precautions and safety measures you should follow.

Thunderstorms produce many dangerous and severe forms of weather. Lightning, destructive winds, heavy rain and hail can all be products of thunderstorms.

Severe Thunderstorm Watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather. Continue normal activity, but monitor weather conditions closely.

Severe Thunderstorm Warning means to seek shelter immediately and monitor conditions on radio or television. Follow all of the above instructions until the storm passes.

What To Do

  • If you are outside, get into a building, car or bus.

  • If you are in the woods, pick a low area under small trees.

  • If you are swimming or boating, get out of the water immediately and onto land as soon as possible.

  • If you are in an open area, head for low ground such as a valley or ravine, or crouch down.

  • If golfing, leave the course as soon as possible and take shelter in the clubhouse.

What Not To Do

  • Do not touch metallic objects such as bicycles, fences, golf clubs, and equipment such as lawnmowers.

  • Do not go near trees, poles, hills, clotheslines, overhead wires, metal pipes, or water.

  • If in a group, do not huddle -- but spread out.

  • Do not use the telephone except in an emergency.

  • Do not take a shower or bath.

Tornadoes are violent storms with spiraling high-speed winds. Tornadoes are usually accompanied by hail, severe thunderstorms and wind. The noise of a tornado has been described as a roaring sound -- like a train far away.

A Tornado Watch means there is a possibility of one or more tornadoes in your area. Continue normal activity but monitor weather conditions closely.

A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been sighted and may be approaching -- seek shelter immediately.

When a tornado threatens, immediate action can save your life!

  • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls. Protect your head.

  • In homes and small buildings, go to the basement or to an interior part of the lowest level -- take shelter in closets, bathrooms or interior halls away from windows. Get under something sturdy or lie in the bathtub and cover yourself with a blanket.

  • In schools, nursing homes, hospitals, factories, shopping centers and malls, go to pre-designated shelter areas. Interior hallways on the lowest levels are best. Stay away from exterior glass doors.

  • In high-rise buildings, go to interior, small rooms or hallways on the lowest floor possible with no windows. If you can see outside, you are not safe.

  • In vehicles or mobile homes, vacate and go to a substantial structure. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine or culvert with your hands shielding your head and neck.

Blizzards, heavy snows, ice storms, freezing rain, or sleet can be serious hazards. The first line of protection is to keep informed of weather conditions in the surrounding area through weather bulletins.

Winter Storm Watch means severe winter weather conditions may affect your area.

Winter Storm Warning means that winter storm weather conditions are imminent.

What To Do

  • Check battery-powered equipment, heating, fuel, food stock, and other vital supplies.

  • Layers of protective clothing are more effective and efficient than a single layer of thick clothing.

  • Mittens are warmer than gloves.

  • Cover the mouth to protect lungs from excessively cold air.

  • Keep your car "winterized." Maintain a full tank of gasoline to keep moisture out of the tank.

  • Carry a winter kit containing equipment to help keep you warm, visible, and alive if you are trapped in a winter storm.

  • If a blizzard traps you in your car, avoid overexertion and exposure, turn on the dome light at night, and don't panic.

What Not To Do

  • Do not overexert yourself shoveling snow. It is extremely hard work and can bring on a heart attack -- a major cause of death during and after winter storms.

  • Do not take unnecessary trips.

In many regions flash floods can strike with little or no warning. Local rains may be so intense that small creeks and streams are unable to accommodate so much water. Storm drains and culverts may turn into raging bodies of water. The force of one foot of swiftly moving water can knock people off their feet.

A Flash Flood Watch means that heavy rains may cause flash flooding in certain areas.

A Flash Flood Warning means that flash flooding is occurring or imminent for certain streams or in designated areas.

Observe these flash flood safety rules -- they could save your life!

  • Keep alert for signs of rain (thunder and lightning), both where you are and upstream.

  • Be especially cautious at night. It's harder to recognize the danger.

  • Stay away from open channels, ditches and culverts.

  • Watch out for rising water levels and do not try to drive through areas with 12 inches or more of water. Be careful of bridges and dips in the road.

  • Abandon your vehicle if water begins to rise over the road and head for higher ground immediately.

Some emergencies may require you to protect yourself either by evacuating the area or by immediately seeking shelter inside a building. If one of these actions is required, you will receive instructions through radio and television broadcasts.

What To Do if Sheltering In Place is Necessary

  • Bring all family members and pets inside the home.

  • Close and lock all doors and windows. Turn off all heating, cooling and ventilation systems including attic and window fans. Close dampers in fireplaces.

  • Everyone needs to go to a pre-designated shelter room. Place a combination of plastic and duct tape around all doors, windows and electrical outlets in that room.

  • Take your emergency-supply kit in room with you.

  • Listen to 1610 AM or commercial radio and television broadcasts for further information.

  • Do not leave your shelter area until local officials give an "ALL CLEAR."

  • After the "ALL CLEAR" is given, open doors and windows to ventilate.

During most serious emergencies, families may need to be self-reliant for about three days. Using the checklist that follows, put together an "emergency preparedness kit" with supplies for each member of your family.

What You Will Need

  • Flashlight with fresh batteries.

  • Portable radio with fresh batteries.

  • 3-day supply of medication (if necessary).

  • Bottled water (1-3 gallons per person).

  • Non-perishable canned goods/manual can opener.

  • Baby food, diapers, etc. (if necessary).

  • Basic first-aid supplies.

  • Bottle and manual can opener.

  • Fire extinguisher.

  • Hygiene products.

  • Change of clothes.

  • Pet food.

  • Blanket or sleeping bag.

  • Money.


  • Evacuate immediately if told to do so. Use travel routes specified by local officials.

  • Wear sensible clothing and sturdy shoes, appropriate for the weather.

  • Take along your disaster supplies kit.

  • Turn off all appliances. Lock your doors and windows.

  • Take a form of identification and any medicine taken regularly by family members.

  • Listen to 1610 AM within the evacuation area or listen to commercial radio and television broadcasts for instructions.

  • Continue to listen for information and instructions until officials give the "ALL CLEAR."
  • Do not return to the evacuated area until local officials have given the "ALL CLEAR."

  • After the emergency is over, enter your home with caution. Open doors and windows to ventilate. DO NOT strike a match or turn on electric lights until you are sure there are no breaks in the gas lines.

When an earthquake strikes your area, for a minute or two the "solid" earth moves like the deck of a ship. What you do during and immediately after the tremor could help reduce damage and loss of life.

During the Shaking

  • If outside, stay outside -- if indoors, stay indoors. Most injuries during an earthquake occur when people attempt to enter or exit buildings.

  • Stay indoors and take cover under a sturdy object or in the hallway. Stay away from glass.

  • If the earthquake catches you outside, move away from building or utility wires.

  • Do not run through or near buildings. If you are in a moving car, stop as quickly as safety permits, but stay in the vehicle.

After the Shaking

  • Do not use candles or flames. Douse all fires.

  • If you see electrical damage, switch off electrical power at the main panel.

  • Visually inspect utility lines, chimneys and appliances for damage.

  • If you smell gas, open windows and shut off the main valve. Then leave the building and report gas leakage to the authorities.

  • If water pipes are damaged, cut off the water supply at the main valve.

  • Turn on your radio to get the latest emergency bulletins.

  • Use the phone only to report a life-threatening emergency.

  • Do not go sightseeing. Aftershocks may occur for several days.

Most fires are caused by carelessness, improper storage or flammable materials or the deliberate setting of fires. Wherever you are, plan your safety before tragedy strikes.

In Case Of Fire

  • To report a fire or other emergencies, dial 9-1-1.

  • Smother a small fire with a wet rug, blanket or fire extinguisher.

  • Turn off electricity and gas sources.

  • Smother a grease fire with baking soda or salt, or put a lid over the flame if it is burning in the pan.

  • Do not try to carry the fire outside.

  • Get out if the fire is uncontrollable! Close windows and doors behind you. Do not go back inside once you are out.

  • Meet your family at a designated place outside.

  • Go to a neighbor's house to report on the fire.

Prevent Fires

  • Store flammable liquids and gasoline in the right metal containers outside -- do not use them indoors.

  • Keep electrical appliances and wiring in good repair. Don't overload circuits.

  • Remember E.D.I.T.H. -- Exit Drills In The Home! Practice regularly.

  • Have a working Class ABC fire extinguisher on each floor.

Forest or Brush Fires

  • Listen to your local radio or television station. Follow instructions.

  • Be ready to leave the area immediately.

  • Locate safe areas (lakes, rivers, etc.) in advance.

  • Remember to be extremely careful with use of fire in the forest. Wild fires kill animals and destroy valuable timber and property. Extinguish all campfires before leaving the area.

Smoke Alarms

  • Install Smoke Alarms on every floor of your home. Place them near the sleeping area(s).

  • Smoke Alarms mounted on the wall should be 12 inches below the ceiling.

  • Smoke Alarms mounted on the ceiling should be at least 12 inches from the wall.

  • Test Smoke Alarms once a month.

  • Change Smoke Alarm's batteries once a year (pick an easily remembered day, i.e., your birthday, 4th of July, etc.).

  • Never take your Smoke Alarm's battery out to use in another device.


Hazardous Materials are substances that, because of their chemical, physical, or biological properties, pose a potential risk to health, property, or the environment.

Preparing For A Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Be aware of the methods used to warn you of a hazardous materials incident. These methods include:
    • Outdoor Warning Sirens or Alert Horns.
    • Emergency Alert System.
    • NOAA Weather Radio.
    • Announcements on Cable Television and local news broadcasts.
    • Tune to 1610 AM for emergency information.

What To Do In Case Of A Hazardous Materials Incident

  • If you witness a hazardous materials release, report it immediately by calling 911.

  • Do not enter the area contaminated by the hazardous material or cloud.

  • Avoid any contact with the hazardous material or cloud.

  • If you hear a warning signal or sirens, turn on your radio or television for emergency information. Follow all instructions carefully.

  • If you are asked to evacuate or shelter in place, do so immediately. See Sheltering In Place or Evacuation sections for more information.

What To Do After A Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Do not return to the evacuated area until authorities say it is safe. Persons or property exposed to hazardous materials may be contaminated.

  • If a hazardous material has contaminated you, seek medical help immediately (call 911).

  • Follow decontamination instructions given by authorities to clean up property or the environment.

  • Listen to 1610 AM within the immediate area of the incident, or listen to commercial radio and television broadcasts for further instructions.

  • Continue to listen for information and instructions until officials give the "ALL CLEAR."

  • After the "ALL CLEAR" is given, open doors and windows to ventilate, if necessary.


  • Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen. Explain what to do in each case.

  • Learn about your community's warning system. What should you do when it is activated?

  • Find out about the disaster plans at your workplace, your children's school or daycare center and other places where your family spends time.

  • Pick two places to meet:

    1. Right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire.
    2. Outside your neighborhoods.

  • Ask an out-of-state friend or family member to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Other family members should call this person and tell them where they are located. Everyone must know your contact's phone number.

  • Discuss what to do in an evacuation.

  • Plan how to take care of your pets.

  • Determine the best escape route from your home. Find two ways out of each room.

  • Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster or emergency.

  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1.

  • Teach family members where the fire extinguisher is kept and show them how to use it.

  • Conduct fire and emergency evacuation drills and update your plan annually.

  • Show each family member how and when to shut off the water, gas and electricity at the main valves, meters or boxes. Clearly label main valves and switches.

  • Conduct a home hazard hunt.

  • Assemble and stock an emergency-preparedness kit.

  • Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class.