“Are you Ready?” for Extreme Cold and Other Natural and Man-made Disasters

January 23, 2014

Image below: Graph depicts how variations in the polar vortex affect weather in the mid-latitudes. Courtesy: National Science Foundation

Polar-vortex-fall-to-winter-chartAs the United States shivers under the Arctic Express, Polar Vortex, Polar Cyclone, Polar Low, Circumpolar Whirl or whatever name you call it (I just call it FREEZING!!!!) with snow, ice, and some of the most extreme cold conditions in decades, Americans will be happy to know that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has help available in the form of its extremely useful new disaster preparedness guide, Are You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness.

FEMA Are You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness ISBN: 9780160920745Intended as both a reference source as well as a step-by-step manual, this easy-to-follow guide has been designed to help Americans “learn how to protect themselves and their families against all types of hazards”.

According to the FEMA authors:

The focus of the content is on how to develop, practice, and maintain emergency plans that reflect what must be done before, during, and after a disaster to protect people and their property. Also included is information on how to assemble a disaster supplies kit that contains the food, water, and other supplies in sufficient quantity for individuals and their families to survive following a disaster in the event they must rely on their own resources.

The guide advises on planning before a disaster, responding during a disaster, and recovering after a disaster and is organized into the following sections: Why Prepare, Part 1 Basic Preparedness, Part 2 Natural Hazards, Part 3 Technological Hazards, Part 4 Terrorism, and Part 5 Recovering from Disaster.

Each chapter has specific tips on preparation, what to do during the particular disaster, instructions for what to do afterwards, and where to go for more information, including links for free publications.

Disasters and emergencies cover the gamut in three areas:

a)      Natural Hazards, including: Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Thunderstorms and Lightning, Winter Storms and Extreme Cold,  Extreme Heat, Earthquakes, Volcanoes, Landslides and Debris Flow (Mudslide), Tsunamis, Fires and Wildfires;

b)      Technological Hazards, including:  Hazardous Materials Incidents, Household Chemical Emergencies, and Nuclear Power Plants

c)      Terrorism, including: General terrorist threats, Explosions, Biological Threats, Chemical Threats, Nuclear Blast, and Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD).

Are You Ready?… for Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

FEMA-Are-You-Ready_page-80-Winter-Storms-and-Extreme-ColdAs I was concerned about the extreme cold, I turned to Part 2, Natural Hazards, Section 2.5 Winter Storms and Extreme Cold.

In the preparation part, I found useful terminology such as the difference between sleet and freezing rain, protective measures and supplies to gather, tips on how to winterize my car (e.g., have you cleaned your car battery terminals and used gasoline additives to keep water out of your fuel lines?) and how to dress for the winter weather (did you know mittens are warmer than gloves?).

FEMA-Are-You-Ready_page-83-Winter-Dress-for-ColdDuring a winter storm, “Are you ready?” gives more advice, such as what to do if a blizzard traps you in the car and how to watch for signs of hypothermia.

[Signs of hypothermia]… include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first, and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.

Other Useful Information in “Are You Ready?”

In addition to information on specific types of emergencies, the guide includes a number of other very useful resources.

Assembling a Disaster Supplies Kit:  A whole chapter is devoted to assembling a good general disaster supplies kit for multiple locations: home, work and vehicle.

Practice Makes Perfect: Advice on how to practice and maintain your emergency plan is under Section 1.6.

General Evacuation Guidelines:  Tells what to do to prepare your home if you have to evacuate, such as utility shut-off and safety, reviewing and securing of insurance and vital records, and so on.

Special Needs: Information on how to do disaster planning to accommodate someone with disabilities is included.

Pets: Caring for pets in emergencies is not forgotten, either.

FEMA Hazard Maps: It highlights how to get free hazard maps from FEMA in your area by accessing FEMA’s Hazard Mapping Portal.

Homeland-Security-Threat-Assessments-Color-MatrixWarning Systems and Signals: The guide explains different national alert systems such as the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio (NWR), as well as the Homeland Security Advisory System with its Threat Conditions thermometer.

Quizzes: The guide even includes some quizzes such as the Terrorism Knowledge Check on page 172 that asks such questions as:

What would you do, if you were at work and…

a. there was an explosion in the building?

b. you received a package in the mail that you considered suspicious?

c. you received a telephone call that was a bomb threat?

Mental Health Issues: Tips are included on how to recognize if children vs. adults may need crisis counseling or stress management assistance as well as how to ease disaster-related stress (such as attending memorial services). For children, guidelines are included by age range of common reactions to traumatic events, along with tips on how adults can reassure children after a disaster.

For additional information about Federal mental and medical emergency resources, read our previous blog post: “Help is Just a Call, Click or Page Away: Federal Disaster Helplines & Emergency Medical Resources.”

Family Forms: The guide is customizable to you and your family with forms to fill out for your own emergency plans. Included is a form for you to use to fill out information as you collect it from your local authorities on possible hazards and emergencies in your community, the Risk Level and how to reduce your risk, along with a “Community and Other Plans” form to use to record answers from your local officials about your community’s disaster and emergency plans.  Also included is a form to draw and to record your family’s specific evacuation route and another to record your Family Communications Plan.

Checklists and Appendices: The guide also includes some handy appendices: Appendix A: Water Conservation Tips, Appendix B: Disaster Supplies Checklist, and the all-important Appendix C: Family Communications Plan.

Preparedness Websites: One is a list of Disaster Public Education Websites from both the Federal Government such as FEMA’s own Ready.gov site (www.ready.gov), as well as non-Governmental sites, like the Institute for Business and Home Safety, www.ibhs.org.

Disaster Recovery Assistance: Finally, advice and resources for getting disaster recovery assistance are covered in the Are You Ready? guide, too.

FEMA Are You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness ISBN: 9780160920745How can I get a copy ofAre You Ready?: An In-Depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness”?

Whether you live near an active volcano; in Tornado Alley or a Hurricane Zone; in wildfire, mudslide or flood-prone areas; or just want to be prepared for any emergency—natural or man-made—this guide will help you save the day!

  • MULTIPLE COPIES: FEMA recommends having a completed guide for each location for your family members: home, work or school, and your vehicle(s). Fill out the customizable sections in each copy with your relevant family, workplace and community information.
  • Shop Online: You can buy this publication from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov by:
  • Order by Phone: Call our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.
  • Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.
  • Digital: Find a PDF version on the FEMA site.
  • Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for it in a nearby Federal depository library.

About the Author: Government Book Talk Editor Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


Go-to Guide on Hazardous Materials for First Responders

November 2, 2012

After my electrical power was restored late last night in northern Virginia following Hurricane or Superstorm #Sandy, I was caught up with images of the devastation that has affected millions from the Caribbean up the East Coast and even to the Midwest of the United States. Even the first floor of my house where I used to live in New Jersey on the Hudson River across from Manhattan was flooded. (Our best wishes go out to everyone affected by the storm!)

As in so many emergencies, the heroes of Superstorm #Sandy are definitely the first responders from firemen, police, National Guard, and emergency medical personnel  who rushed to deal with emergency situations even while the storm was at its height. These first responders have to rush into extremely hazardous conditions, often with live power lines, broken gas lines, or work around sewage, spilled chemicals, or other pollutants, such as is happening in Hoboken, all while trying to save lives.

IMAGE: Hazmat personnel (at back in yellow) test contaminated water around half-submerged cars float in a flooded parking lot in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York City. (Credit: Justin Lane/EPA)

Published by the experts at Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in conjunction with Transport Canada, the Emergency Response Guidebook 2012 is the newly updated guide for use by transporters, firefighters, police, and other emergency services personnel who may be the first to arrive at the scene of a transportation incident involving a hazardous material or “Hazmat” as it is usually referred to in the United States.

The Emergency Response Guidebook 2012, or ERG as it is known popularly to those who use it, provides first responders with a go-to manual to help deal with hazmat accidents during the critical first 30 minutes. PHMSA’s goal is to place one of these ERGs into every emergency service vehicle nationwide.

While the subtitle is: “A Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials Transportation Incident,”  it can be used during any emergency incident where hazardous materials are present.

The Guidebook is organized to provide first responders individual pages or guides on how to deal with each kind of hazardous material. It recommends a three-step process:

  •  STEP ONE: Identify the HAZARDOUS MATERIAL by finding either the Name of the Material or the Identification Number (4-DIGIT ID after UN/NA) of the material from a placard or orange panel on the container or from the shipping paper or package.
  • STEP TWO: Identify the 3-digit GUIDE NUMBER in this guidebook that corresponds to the material name or number.
  • STEP THREE: Follow the GUIDE INSTRUCTIONS carefully on the corresponding orange-bordered numbered guide page.

IMAGE: Fully-suited hazardous materials first responders at a chemical spill drill.  The 4-digit Hazardous Material Identification Number 2880 is clearly shown on a placard on the tanker. Credit Guy McCarthy

How to use the ERG 2012

Here is the cross-reference to the Guide number to follow for the above hazardous material # 2880, which we find is Calcium hypochlorite, corresponding to Guide number 140 in the ERG.

IMAGE: Cross-reference for hazardous material ID number to the ERG Guide number.

Looking up Guide number 140, we find that water is to be used to deal with this particular material, not dry chemicals or foams such as from fire extinguishers. Each Guide page also discusses how to handle small or large fires of this material, fires involving whole tanks for trailer loads, spills or leaks of this material, and first aid for anyone injured by this substance.

The ERG 2012 also provides guidance for responding when the hazardous material is unknown, with a Table of Placards and Emergency Response Guide to Use On-Scene.

Whom do the first responders call?

Since first responders can’t have the answers to every time of hazardous material incident, the guide provides a list of toll-free, 24-hour emergency response hotlines to call for the United States and U.S. Virgin Islands, and numbers to call for incidents involving military shipments with explosives, ammunition or other dangerous goods, as well as CBRN (Chemical-Biological-Radiological-Nuclear) incidents and terrorist or criminal incidents involving IEDs (improvised explosive devices), pipe bombs, car bombs, suicide vests and more . It also includes numbers for all provinces in  Canada, including bilingual French-English phone numbers, and hotline numbers for Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.

And finally, a terrific glossary of terms helps decipher some of the jargon.

Firemen, bomb squads, CBRN teams, police, emergency medical personnel, military police and other first responders  have a hard enough job to do without risking their lives dealing with broken pipelines, overturned tankers, bombs, spills, and other hazardous materials. Fortunately the Department of Transportation provides this excellent tool to help keep them—and us—safer. That’s something we can all respond to.

HOW DO I OBTAIN Emergency Response Guidebook 2012”?

  • Buy a print copy online 24/7 at GPO’s Online Bookstore. NOTE: Save 60% off the original price of $28. Now only $10.
  • Buy it at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday-Friday, 9am to 4pm, except Federal holidays, (202) 512-0132.

Find this and other books for Emergency Management and First Responders under the Security, Defense & Law Enforcement category on our new online bookstore.

About the Author:  Michele Bartram is Promotions Manager for GPO’s Publication and Information Sales Division in Washington, DC, and is responsible for online and offline marketing of the US Government Online Bookstore (http://bookstore.gpo.gov) and promoting Federal government content to the public.


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