A time to prepare for tornadoes

SEVERE WEATHER Awareness Week is March 19-25 in Ohio, and residents are reminded to be careful and be prepared.

Becky Horne, administrative assistant with the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency, shared safety tips and added that the statewide tornado siren test is set for noon March 22, in the middle of the week. Communities are advised to test their tornado sirens at that time.

Communities such as St. Clairsville have tornado sirens in place, including one in the courthouse, but Horne said the sirens are limited in effectiveness in this part of the state.

“They’re outdoor warning sirens. You can only hear them outside, and you can’t really hear them when you’re inside your house,” she said. “Outdoor warning sirens, because of our topography we have with all the hills, those are natural sound barriers, depending on if you live on top of a hill, and maybe depending on the weather, too. If the air’s heavy then the sound falls and maybe doesn’t carry as far. That’s usually at night when the air’s heavier than in the daytime, so there’s so many factors.”

She said there are other options to notify people of a weather emergency, such as websites and social media.

“Whenever severe storms do arise, we try to post stuff on Facebook, but not everybody has access to that,” she said.

Horne added that the most effective precaution is for people to sign up to receive Code Red notifications. The service is offered through Belmont County 911 and will notify people via phone or cellphone in the event of an emergency such as severe weather, chemical spills or pending disasters in select areas.

“911 can draw a circle around a certain part of St. Clairsville, for example. If there’s a chemical spill, it will notify everyone in that circle,” Horne said.

The EMA advises residents to have preparations in place in the event of severe weather or another disaster.

“It’s going to be a few days if not even longer before first responders can get to people, so they need to be prepared. They need to have enough water, enough food, enough to sustain them for a week, until first responders can get to the people, until (the Red Cross) can get shelters open,” Horne said.

She said the EMA advises households to keep at least 3 gallons of water per person.

“If you have three people in a house, you should keep 9 gallons of fresh water and jugs, so if the water does go out you have jugs to go to the water buffalos,” she said.

She said it is also wise to have supplies such as food and batteries on hand.

Horne added that severe weather often goes hand-in-hand with flooding, particularly in areas near creeks.

“A flash flood can happen in seconds, that’s why it’s called a flash flood. When creeks get dammed up and then it lets loose, I’ve seen a wall of water before about 6 feet high,” she said. “Get up and get away from the water. Don’t drive through. You don’t even know if there’s a road underneath. … Turn around, don’t drown.”

Horne said the reverse 911 alert is also invaluable in the event of disasters such as chemical spills.

“We want to teach people to shelter in place so that if there ever is a chemical spill in your area,” you block up your vents and your fireplace and lock your windows, because when you lock a door or window it creates a tighter seal, just enough to get people by for a few hours.

“You don’t want to go outside, and if you’re in a car, roll your windows up, turn your heater off, turn your radio on so you can listen to further instructions. Communication’s key,” Horne said.

Belmont County residents can sign up for Code Red at the county 911 website, belmontcounty911.com.

“We just can’t stress how important it is for people to sign up for that,” Horne said.

In Harrison County, EMA Director Eric Wilson said his office has no special plans for Severe Weather Week.

“We put out information in conjunction with specific alert. I don’t like to clog up people’s social media feeds,” he said. “For our agency, delivery of the safety information is more important in conjunction with an alert.

“When we do that national tornado day, we’ll have something just to kind of let people know you might hear sirens in your area, in your neighborhood, but other than that we plan to couple our information with actual events,” he said.

Regarding reverse 911 notification services, Harrison County is hoping to offer the option in the future.

“It is a very beneficial system for residents of the county that have that. We’re currently between providers and working with the sheriff’s office to determine the best one. We’ve had a couple, and they just weren’t good fits for us,” he said.

The American Red Cross has information about tornado safety available at redcross.org, and the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness has advice at weathersafety.ohio.gov.


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