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Severe weather awareness brings critical response

One week it is flooding. The next, freezing rain is the culprit. But recent events have shown that whenever the week and whatever the cause, changes in weather can affect the lives of every Georgian.

And not just during winter.

The heat waves and droughts of summer, tornadoes and thunderstorms of spring, hurricanes and storms of autumn — weather, severe weather, can occur year-round.

No one can change the weather, but substituting “preparation” for “prevention” in Ben Franklin’s adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” can mean the difference between life and death when talking about weather.

That is why Gov. Nathan Deal has declared Feb. 4-8 as “Severe Weather Awareness Week” statewide.

Monday, Feb. 4 is Family Preparedness Day, a time to review plans about what to do in times of emergency. Families should agree on a safe place to go and communicate with one another if they are separated during a storm. It is also a time to check that weather radios are properly programmed and have fresh batteries.

Tuesday is Thunderstorm Safety Day, a time to refresh everyone’s memory as to the difference between weather advisories, watches and warnings (differences are due to timing: it could happen, it could happen soon, it is going to happen and soon).

Wednesday is Tornado Safety Day, and is when most schools will hold severe weather drills. It is a good time to review the plan discussed Monday.

Thursday is Lightning Safety Day. Lightning is the third greatest storm-related killer in the United States and causes more than $1 billion of damage each year.

Friday is Flooding Safety Day, something particularly important in Northwest Georgia with its mix of steep slopes and streams prone to overflowing. The slogan “Turn around, don’t drown” should be the first thing that comes to mind whenever anyone encounters flooded areas.

To again quote Ben Franklin, “Some people are weather-wise, but most are otherwise,” which is why regular reviews of how to respond to natural disasters are critical.

Severe weather can be an inconvenience, something that rains out a ballgame or picnic, or a life-threatening event like Hurricane Sandy or the tornado that touched Ringgold and its residents April 27, 2011.

“We tend to look at disasters as something that happens to somebody else, but every person will typically live through two disasters in their lifetime,” said Larry Miller, an instructor with Catoosa CERT.

The Community Emergency Response Team program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area, and trains them in basic disaster response skills such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization and disaster medical operations.

“Our definition of a disaster is that nothing is working the way you want it to,” Miller said. “All infrastructure is overwhelmed, including emergency response. It is when we have to fall back on our own resources; you make do with what you have.”

About 70 Catoosans have completed CERT training, a 20-hour course taught on two consecutive Saturdays that prepares people to help themselves, their family, friends and neighbors in the time before first responders arrive following a disaster.

“CERT training is an excellent way to get the tools to evaluate what you need to prepare for a disaster,” Miller said. “It doesn’t provide all the answers, but it does help you ask the right questions to prepare for a ‘What would I do if?’ scenario.”

Many people expect emergency responders to be at the scene within a matter of hours after something serious happens, but that is seldom the case, he said.

“The reality might be days rather than hours,” added Miller. “The federal government advises everyone have enough supplies and be prepared to be on their own for at least three days, but a week is better.”

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