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Metro Detroit

April 16, 2014

The best defense against a storm is to prepare for one

By Nick Mordowanec
C & G Staff Writer

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Replace those old batteries in your flashlight, ramp up your generators and be ready to battle Mother Nature.

As a different climate has begun to settle in, a different set of hazards to homeowners might arise in the months ahead.

Many of us have sat on a porch in the summertime and watched the beauty of a thunderstorm, lightning brightening up the sky as thunder crescendos. If only every storm was as peaceful as it is visibly beautiful.

The reality is that devastating storms, from giant thunderstorms to flash floods to tornadoes, have ransacked homes and ravaged lives. Sometimes, responding to a warning siren just isn’t enough.

But that doesn’t mean you should not be prepared, for the sake of your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Matt Mosteiko, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service based out of White Lake, Mich., said that shelter is an integral part of any safety plan. Individuals should take cover when a warning is issued and stay there until any imminent threat has passed.

“(You want) to make sure everyone in your home knows where to go, (and) it specifically should be a basement with no windows,” Mosteiko said. “(Have) something strong and sturdy over you, like a stairwell or desk. Pillows and blankets can stop shrapnel and glass.”

Mosteiko said that the southern half of Michigan is more susceptible to danger than the northern half, especially toward the Great Lakes. The corridor from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio coming to Michigan is a point of emphasis for storms, although Lake Erie and Lake Michigan tend to stabilize thunderstorms and outbreaks.

April 6-12 was Severe Weather Awareness Week in Michigan, which was a fine time to reflect on personal and public safety strategies. The goal was to enlighten each community about the perils of being unprepared in hazardous circumstances, from homes to schools to businesses.

Be wary of large, hanging branches over or near your home or place of business. Property destruction is part of the devastating aftermath of storms, and it can lead to personal injury.

Often, something as simple as listening to a weather radio — especially a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radio — or watching weather reports on TV can be a safety measure that could potentially save your life. And with evolved technology, people can receive severe weather alerts on their smartphones.

“The first thing is to be notified, aware of your surroundings and get a warning,” said Clinton Township Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Brouwer. “Listen to the radio and have a weather radio, especially at night. Know what’s coming, and then you’ve got a plan. If you don’t know, call the police or fire department or emergency manager.

“If sirens go off, don’t call 911. Put your plan in place.”

Part of that plan Brouwer mentioned revolves around being in tune with your surroundings and acclimating yourself to a situation. If you have a family, do your best to contact your spouse at work or your child at soccer practice. Communication is key in moments of potential danger.

A disaster kit is also a game-changer in the way people can sustain resources and buy time in cases of emergency.

“(Disaster kits should contain) drinking water (one gallon per person), a three-day supply of food, a radio (crank or battery powered), a flashlight, first aid, a whistle, dust mask, wet wipes, tools (screwdriver, wrench), a cellphone and a charger,” Mosteiko said. “If you have a kit and it’s in a shelter, you should be OK. Doesn’t hurt to have one in the bedroom, one on the main floor.”

Brouwer added that disaster kits are not used just in the biggest of storms or tornadoes; a kit could keep you safe in the most unlikely of situations, such as the infamous power outage experienced in the United States in 2003.

“In six or seven days, everything in the fridge would be spoiled,” Brouwer said. “Have first aid supplies on hand. If it’s a widespread danger, like a tornado, have your own medical supplies in case something happens, like antiseptic. Medicine — if you take it on a daily basis, you need enough for 10 days to get you through.”

Brouwer insists that people listen to the sirens and know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A watch means you’re looking for the storm, and a warning means you’re in it, Brouwer said.

“It might last for six-seven hours, and for the first  5 1/2 hours, the sun is shining and you’re having a wonderful time,” Brouwer said. “And then the gray comes through. When you see that, that’s the point when you should see some action.”

“It’s all about preparedness and awareness. Be prepared and have a plan, (and) if you don’t have any water and any electricity, then it’s too late and you become part of the problem, because you’re looking for assistance. Be able to take care of yourself. You have to think about those things and take care of them and make sure they work when you need them.”