“In the South, we are used to two severe weather seasons—spring and fall,” said Patrice Kurzejeski, assistant director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency. “But, as we know, we can have tornadoes in any season.”
Kurzejeski said in January, two people were killed by separate twisters in Alabama. January was the third most active month in the United States on record for tornadoes, behind 1999 and 2008.
“We also want to let local residents know that St. Clair County sirens will no longer have a voice when warning for severe weather,” she said. “If you are outside and hear a siren, please go inside and turn on your TV or radio. Please rely on your NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Weather Radio for indoor warning.”
St. Clair County EMA director Ellen Haynes said there are several reasons for the change.
“When people hear a siren with a voice, many will step outside to hear the message better, which is the worst thing they could do,” she said. “The siren means to go inside and find a source of information to learn more about what the emergency is.”
Haynes said when the sirens were first installed, the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) mandated the sirens have voice messages and would not grant the St. Clair County EMA a waiver.
“Generally speaking, EMA officials across Alabama and the southeast understand and believe that voice messages are not the most efficient way of letting people know what the emergency is to their specific area,” she said. “The third reason is that often the voice messages may not be easily heard and understood by the listener, or may malfunction and not relay the whole message. That leads to people being passive about what the emergency is and what it means to them.”
Deborah Gaither, director of the Talladega County EMA, said Talladega County has not done away with the voice on the sirens, but doesn’t encourage people to go outside to listen to the message.
“The sirens are to let people know to go indoors,” she said.
Gaither said Talladega County has transitioned to a polygon alert system implemented April 1.
“The new polygon system only activates sirens in the polygon of a warning,” she said. “So if the warning only affects Sylacauga, the sirens in Lincoln and Talladega won’t sound.”
Gaither said the exception is the siren test day, conducted the second Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m.
“We have also added social media to help reach more residents with alerts,” she said.
Gaither said residents can follow the Talladega County EMA on Facebook or Twitter @readytalladega.
“You can also sign up for nixle.com to get email or test alerts,” she said. “It’s free, although service provider charges may apply.”
Haynes said the St. Clair County EMA is also transitioning to the polygon system, which should be implemented in the next few months. Residents can also follow St. Clair County EMA on Facebook and Twitter @stclairema. St. Clair County siren test day is the first Tuesday of each month at 4 p.m.
Haynes said there are also a number of apps for smartphones that provide weather information:
• iMap Weather Radio found at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/imapweather-radio/id413511993?mt=8.
• NOAA Weather Radio App found at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/noaa-weather-radio/id410148139?mt=8.
• Weather Alert USE found at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/weather-alert-usa/id314502416?mt=8.
• ABC33/40 found at http://www.abc3340.com/category/201788/abc-3340-iphone-app?redirected=true.
• Fox 6 found at http://www.myfoxal.com/category/201682/weather-app-faq.
Text and email alerts:
• Saf-T-Net found at http://saftnet2.baronservices.com/stateofalabama/saftnet?cmd=signup_new_premium.
• Fox 6 Text/Email Alerts found at http://www.myfoxal.com/category/216843/preference-center.
Smartphone app for general weather information:
• Radar Scope found at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/radarscope/id288419283?mt=8.
You can also download a flashlight app on your iPhone incase the power goes out.
The St. Clair County EMA offers some tornado information and precautions.
Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that descend from thunderstorm clouds to come in contact with the ground. Tornadoes have occurred in every month and during every hour of the day and night. They form quickly and you may have only a few seconds to react and find shelter.
A Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes or severe thunderstorms. Keep up to date with the latest weather information by listening to or watching local Emergency Alert System stations or monitoring your Emergency Alert Radio.
A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been spotted or indicated by radar nearby and you should seek shelter immediately.
Tornadoes can occur without warning.
• If you are at home, go to your shelter room on the lowest floor in the center of the house. Basements and small interior rooms, such as closets or bathrooms, offer the most protection. Take your Disaster Supply Kit with you if it is not already in your shelter room. Avoid windows, doors, outside walls and large rooms such as the living room. Protect yourself from flying debris with pillows, blankets, quilts or coats. Hold a thick pillow over your head.
• If you are at work or school, designated shelters are best. Avoid windows and large open rooms such as auditoriums, lunchrooms and gymnasiums.
• If you are in a shopping center or mall, a designated shelter or the center of the building on the lowest level is best. Do not go to your car.
• If you are in a car or mobile home, leave immediately and go to a more substantial structure. If no shelter is available, lie on your stomach in a ditch and cover your head with your hands or a blanket or coat. Be alert for possible flooding of the area.
• After the tornado has passed, check for injuries. Don’t attempt to move seriously injured persons unless they are in danger.
• Watch for broken glass and downed power lines. Use caution in and around damaged buildings in case they are no longer structurally sound.
Insurance companies also offer some tips to include when creating an emergency plan to help consumers protect themselves, their homes and their businesses from damage.
• Draw a floor plan and mark two safe rooms or areas that family members can go during a tornado, such as a room with no windows or a basement. Rehearse your emergency plan twice a year.
• Remember to have only appropriately-aged family members safely shut off water, gas and electricity at the main switches.
• Post emergency telephone numbers near each phone and teach children to use them.
• Tell family members how to use the radio to listen for emergency information.
• Consider purchasing and using a NOAA Weather Radio in your home during the storm seasons to receive important weather warnings.
• Designate a local and out-of-town contact for your family members to call in case you’re separated. Long-distance calls are sometimes easier to make during a local emergency.
• Collect all important papers and documents. This includes banking, insurance and financial information, as well as bills and checkbook.
• If you don’t have an up-to-date home inventory, walk through your home with a video or still camera. An inventory can help facilitate the claim process.
Prepare an emergency supply kit. Make household members aware of where supplies are stored. Use an easy-to-carry container such as a backpack, duffel bag or covered trash container.
Kurzejeski said each family should have a Disaster Supply Kit in the home.
“You should be prepared to take care of yourself for at least three days during and after an emergency,” she said.
Kurzejeski said the Disaster Supply Kit should including the following things, depending on individual needs:
• Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
• A three-day supply of water, including a gallon of water per person per day.
• Non-perishable food and a manual can opener.
• First aid kit with essential prescription medications.
• Sleeping bags/blankets.
• Lighter, matches and candles.
• Fire extinguisher.
• A change of clothing, rain gear, work gloves and sturdy shoes for each family member.
• Toiletries and personal needs.
• Credit cards and cash or travelers checks.
• Supplies for the elderly.
• Baby supplies.
• Extra vehicle/house keys.
• Extra glasses or contact lenses, etc.
• Family information. Place important paperwork in waterproof containers. Include financial information, important phone numbers, wills, insurance policies, immunization records and passports.
Kurzejeski said the Disaster Supply Kit should be stored in a convenient location that everyone in the family knows.
“Change out water and food supplies every six months, and review kit contents and family needs annually including replacing batteries and updating clothing,” she said.
The St. Clair County EMA can be reached at 205-884-6800. The Talladega County EMA can be reached at 256-761-2125.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at email@example.com.