Oh, The Weather Outside Is Frightful…

As I look out the window at blustery conditions,  the emergency management professional in me is reminded that the relative absence of snow events this winter may have made us all a bit more complacent about winter preparedness.  As such, I’d like to take this opportunity to remind you of five easy steps you can take to better ensure your safety when traveling out -and-about in wintery conditions.

1.  Keep a winter kit in your car.  There are all kinds of fabulous things you can put in your kit, but at the very least make sure you have warm clothing and boots.  Don’t go out in pajama pants and a hoodie just because your car is warm and you are just giving a friend a ride somewhere (can you tell that I spend a lot of time with college students?).   FEMA suggests you collect the following items for your vehicle’s winter survival kit (from Ready.gov):

• shovel;
• windshield scraper and small broom;
• flashlight;
•battery powered radio;
•extra batteries;
•snack food;
•extra hats, socks and mittens;
•first aid kit with pocket knife;
•necessary medications;
•tow chain or rope;
•road salt and sand;
•booster cables;
•emergency flares; and,
•fluorescent distress flag.

2. Tell people where you are going before you leave home and when you expect to get to your destination.  Folks cannot worry about the fact that you never arrived at your destination if they are either a) unaware of your destination; or, b) unaware of your estimated time of arrival (ETA).  This is safety 101 and is not only free, but is also painless.

3. Keep your vehicle filled with at least a half tank of gas.  The last thing you need is to run out of gas in the midst of a winter storm.  Plus, you may need to run your vehicle for ten minutes an hour if you get stranded.  If you become stranded in a vehicle FEMA suggests:

• Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.

• Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow.

•Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.

•Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.

•Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.

•Eat regularly and drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

•Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs – the use of lights, heat, and radio – with supply.

•Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.

•If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.

•Leave the car and proceed on foot – if necessary – once the blizzard passes.

4. Invest in a vehicle charger for your cell phone.  Having access to communication may be the difference between life and death. Being able to report your location and status to police or a tow truck company will make getting to you easier.

5. Practice situational awareness – know what weather is expected for the day and check the road conditions before you leave home.  Most states have statewide highway maps posted that  provide easy to understand information about the status of roads, highways and interstates.  For our local area:

North Dakota (http://www.dot.nd.gov/travel-info-v2/travel-info.htm)
Minnesota (http://hb.511mn.org/main.jsf)
South Dakota (http://www.safetravelusa.com/sd/)

Oh and one bonus addition for you that won’t cost you a dime, but that could potentially save your life – regardless of the weather – don’t text and drive, and if possible, don’t talk on your phone and drive.  In poor weather conditions you should have both hands on the wheel and your full attention on the road.

That concludes this message from the Emergency Broadcast System..be safe folks, travel smart.

Day nine hundred and sixty-five of the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C