BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON -In Iowa, the last full week of March is earmarked for severe weather preparedness and local severe weather guru Steve Cirinna is challenging people to be ready for whatever the spring brings in the form of storms and flooding.
As part of the week-long program, Monday focused on thinking about getting prepared and going from the mindset of winter weather to thinking about what the spring might bring. Tuesday’s topics were looking at how you get your severe weather warnings. Cirinna said people need to remember the outdoor sirens are to indicate to people outside that they need to take shelter immediately.
“The sirens are for outdoors. They were never designed to be indoor warning systems,” Cirinna said.
Wednesday was a day for local and state tornado drills and making sure systems are in place and people are familiar with the warnings. Due to the inclement weather on Wednesday however, Cirinna said locally they did not sound the outdoor alert system.
“People need to look at being prepared.” Cirinna said. “Are you ready to go if something like this happens?..now’s the time to start thinking about it again.”
He said one of the best things on the market for weather alerts is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA radios.
“Those are great for home and portable. They are programmable to specific counties, too. You used to just have the cube that sat on your desk and gave you weather and they didn’t have weather alerts or alarms on them. Now we also have apps on cellphones that have all sorts of good things like radars and alerts for tornadoes. The key to those, however, is that you have to pay attention to them,” he said.
There is also a program in Iowa called ‘Alert Iowa’. That’s where you would get a text or a phone call on your cell but you have to register in the system to get the alerts. The system debuted in 2014 in 33 counties and has since grown. The system not only alerts for severe weather but also for chemical spills or hazardous material incidents. To register for the alerts, visit this link: https://entry.inspironlogistics.com/lee_ia/wens.cfm
Family preparedness is on the agenda for Thursday. Cirinna recommended families again to think about what they would do in the event of an emergency.
“Do you have a plan, a kit if something were to happen,” he said. “Depending on the type of damage, it could take a while for you to get any assistance. Those associated with larger events like the tornadoes in Joplin or Parkersburg, it could take a while for someone to get assistance in. In some instance streets aren’t even clear. Some people don’t even recognize where they are because all the landmarks are gone and people are confused.”
Cell phone companies are getting better at having backups in place for when service is disrupted on towers with backup and generators, but Cirinna said a lot of times in larger emergency situations the traffic is so heavy you can’t get a call through. He said in those situations when you can’t get through, sending a text may work because it’s a microsecond of demand where calls are longer.
Families should also have plans of where to meet up or organize in the event of a disaster. Many families have people in multiple locations at different times during the day and a plan should be in place for everyone to connect. He also said he’s in regular contact with cities, counties, schools and day care centers. And if an emergency situation should arise during school hours, the officials and people in charge at those locations have preset plans to handle those events.
“Having all the parents rush to the scene could actually delay in getting help to those who may need it,” he said. But Cirinna admits that’s a tough sell, although it’s the right thing to do.
Yeah, it’d be tough for me not to be on my cellphone trying to get there,” he said.
“But the time to deal with these things is before things happen. Get with your schools or day cares and I find out what’s going on. In the fall, we sat down with the day care centers throughout the state and were able to go over a planning process and get them thinking what they would do if something like this happened.”
Friday is flooding preparedness discussion.
Cirinna said the spring models don’t show any real danger of flooding, but he said he doesn’t know what the summer will bring. And he said it’s not the major rivers that cause the most fatalities.
“Flash flooding kills more people than any other type of weather event,” he said. “Lightning is second on that list. Do you have a plan? What about sand bagging? I can’t hand those out as I have to focus on government facilities, chemical industries where deeper issues happen because of the flooding.
“It would basically behoove everyone to have something to help keep the water out. Sandbags are relatively inexpensive. You can spend $50 and get 100 bags and that’s pretty good shape for most houses. Lots of the local quarries would have the sand but you if you’re in flooding areas you should get with them and make sure you have a plan.”
He said he hears that people are still confused by watches and warnings. Watches mean conditions are favorable for the development for flooding, severe storms or tornadoes. A warning means it is happening now and the national weather service is actually getting reports of the weather.
“The whole idea is to get people to become more aware of what’s going on.
Cirinna said people can visit him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and he typically has updates available there for most circumstances. Even those in surrounding areas.
He also said first and foremost if you ever come upon or are hit by any emergency situation your first call should be to 911.
“Make sure someone is aware and trying to get to you.”