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Emergency Services: "Prepration key to safety"

PLATTSBURGH While the region has begun to recover from the damage incurred by last weeks storm, some may have been left wondering what to do in the event of a tornado hitting the North Country. Though tornado watches were called for Clinton and Essex counties and the entire state of Vermont, no tornadic activity was officially recorded. However, that doesnt mean people shouldnt be prepared, said Kelly C. Donoghue, assistant director of the Clinton County Office of Emergency Services. While many in northern New York may never have experienced a tornado, said Donoghue, the basic preparation for such an event is similar in many ways to other natural disasters such as ice storms and floods. Its important to have a plan in place where you will go if there is an emergency and have a backup for that plan, Donoghue said. You may plan to go to family down the road but find you cant go there. You need to be prepared in that case. Donoghue suggested people obtain a copy of Are You Prepared? A Basic Guide for North Country Communities on Disaster Preparedness, a booklet developed last November by the United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties Inc. in conjunction with the North Country Chapter of the American Red Cross. The 26-page guide outlines what items to have readily-accessible in the event of an emergency, such as a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, batteries and enough bottled water and nonperishable food for at least a 72-hour period. It has information about pretty much everything you need in an emergency, he said. The book also suggests keeping important documents and records in a secure location. Donoghue added its also a good idea to have copies of the information saved in a separate location as well. Having information such as homeowners or renters insurance documentation that will be important to have on hand following a disaster such as a tornado will make things easier when it comes time to handle the claims process, said Donoghue. A tornado could wipe out your entire house, he said. Thats an argument for why you wouldnt want to keep the sole copy in your home. In order to understand how prepared you need to be, said Donoghue, its important to know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch, he explained, is issued by the National Weather Service when weather conditions are favorable for the severe thunderstorms to be capable of producing tornadoes. When a warning is issued, it means a tornado has been spotted or radar has indicated even more significant weather activity that shows a tornado is imminent, he said. According to the National Weather Service, tornadoes occur when cold and warm fronts collide, and are predominantly preceded by heavy rain, strong winds and hail. A dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift follows and a loud, continuous roar or rumble can be heard that lasts longer than typical thunder. The final sign of a tornado is a funnel that descends from the clouds, reaching the ground. Seeing the funnel is one thing, but its not a tornado until it lands, said Donoghue. But, the weather can change at a moments notice. That speaks to the importance of staying informed when a watch or warning is declared, Donoghue said. When there is the possibility of a tornado approaching, a portable radio should be on hand in order to listen to weather updates and other emergency information, he said. Its a good idea to have a battery-powered or hand crank radio in case of any emergency, said Donoghue. Listen to the radio or watch TV for reports and take the reports seriously. If they say there was a spotting of a tornado and you know its in your area, the reality is you need to take cover. When a tornado is imminent, the best advice is to seek shelter, said Donoghue. The key is to go indoors and to the lowest floor possible, such as a basement or storm cellar. Structures with secure foundations are best, he said, unlike mobile homes which can be easily lifted by high winds. The winds produced by a tornado can be violent, swirling at speeds surpassing 300 miles per hour. That sort of condition can easily turn seemingly harmless inanimate objects such as gardening tools or dog houses into a dangerous projectile, said Donoghue. Windows should also be avoided, he said, due to the possibility of shattering glass which further presents a danger. As for those on the road when a tornado strikes, Donoghue said its best to pull over and get out. Dont think you can predict which way a tornado will travel and try to outrun it, said Donoghue. Go to the lowest spot you can go, like a ditch or a culvert and find something to hold onto if you can. Donoghue said its also best to stay away from trees, which may easily be uprooted or break, falling on top of you. The same can also be said for utility poles, which can also present the danger of electrocution. Even if you think its a cable or telephone line, theres still some form of charge, from my understanding, that goes through those lines, he said. Not that it might kill you, but if youre in water, it can only make the situation all that more dangerous. We dont get these types of storms often, but we can still get them, Donoghue added. Thats why its important to be prepared. Copies of the preparedness guide may be obtained by contacting the local United Way at 563-0028 or local American Red Cross at 561-7280. The guide may also be downloaded from the United Way Web site at www.unitedwayce.org.

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