WILLIAMSBURG — After Hurricane Idalia impacted the Florida Gulf Coast this week, its path carried it across Georgia and the Carolinas, its outer rain bands even reaching the Hampton Roads region.
While our area may not have seen a direct impact, preparing now for any storm is key. WYDaily recently sat down with James City County Emergency Management Deputy Coordinator Sara Ruch to learn more about the ins and outs of hurricane preparedness.
According to Ruch, there is a three-step plan that everyone can follow: making a kit, have a plan, stay informed.
When it comes to the kit, Ruch reminds folks to find a place to put it and never move it, ensuring that its location is always known.
“The kit can be as easy as dumping out a child’s backpack and putting in everything that you need to go camping. Also remember to include a few days to a couple weeks worth of food and water, because it may not be available even after the storm passes,” Ruch said.
Family kits should include insurance paperwork and important financial documents, and phone numbers for doctors and family. Those can be stored on a flash drive to ensure accessibility. A key reminder from Ruch, the internet may not be available after a storm, so knowing your information by memory is also important.
“Some people don’t even know, if their cell phone goes down, what bank they use. Just writing down your financial institutions and the corresponding account numbers is so important,” Ruch said.
Kits should also be made for pets, and include food, treats, blankets, and toys. Vaccination records and identification tags should also be included in the event of evacuation to a shelter.
Among common missing kit items, Ruch reminds everyone that cash is important.
“Credit cards could be down and not a lot of places take checks anymore. There are very few ATMs with generators. If you think you are just going to run to the ATM after a storm and pick up some cash, it’s likely that they will be down unless we have full power,” Ruch said.
Estimate how much is spent on a daily basis and allot that amount for roughly seven days.
HAVE A PLAN
During any storm, knowing the evacuation zones is extremely important. Ruch urges all residents to know exactly which zone they live in.
“If you are in an evacuation zone, you don’t necessarily have to go to Roanoke. You can go to your friend’s house that is located in another zone in the county. You don’t have to go to the other side of the state, you can stay locally,” Ruch said.
That said, Ruch added that if there are needs for electrical dependability (medical devices), because of power outages that may be possible from storms, those folks should go a bit further from the potential storm-affected area.
In emergency preparedness, the saying “run from the water and hide from the wind” is applicable to many situations. When it comes to water, evacuations are necessary due to likely flooding of the area, but with the wind, making sure to be indoors and away from windows is key.
“Make sure you are inside a room that is located in the interior of your home, like a bathroom or a closet on the lower level,” Ruch said.
Above all, communicating and staying informed helps save lives. While the emergency operations centers are staffed during storms, keeping an eye on what is happening with the weather from a safe location is key.
James City County updates are pushed out through jccalert.org, the City of Williamsburg has an emergency preparedness page on its website, and York County uses York Alert. All alert messages are free to receive.
“We’ll share the National Weather Service updates for our area, including tornadoes, hurricanes, and flash flooding. We will also share information about shelters and storm updates as they become available,” Ruch said.
Most cell phones are equipped with the Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA). Cell phone users can turn on WEA alerts on their phones and emergency alerts will come through for whatever area they are located in at the time of the alert.
“It’s like the Amber Alert messages you get, but it’s for weather. If it’s bad enough, a sound will go off on your phone so you can be kept informed. Any of our local news channels with also have updates, as well as local radio stations, and social media,” Ruch said.
After the storm passes, many people want to begin the cleanup process immediately.
“As people come out of their homes after a storm, remember that you don’t know what is under or floating in the water. If it was ground the day beforehand, that ground may or may not be there. Don’t go outside if you don’t need to,” Ruch said.
Ruch also reminds people not to go near downed power lines as they may still be active and could cause electrocution.
Often, medical emergencies happen during storm aftermath. There have been many cases where people have suffered cardiac arrest and heat exhaustion due to extreme physical activity.
“Don’t overdo it. People are not used to that much physical exertion. It’s also probably hot out afterwards and likely that there is no access to air conditioning. Stay hydrated and take care of yourself as you clean,” Ruch said.
Stock up on appropriate safety equipment, including strong gloves, sneakers or boots to avoid injury during cleanup.
Once it is safe to do so, James City County, the City of Williamsburg, and York County will alert the public when travel can begin.
Ruch addressed other common tips that people often forget.
- Contact an arborist to look at the trees on your property before a storm. If trees need to come down, doing so ahead of a storm is important so they do not fall and damage your property.
- Clean out all gutters and downspouts so that water does not get clogged by leaves and debris.
- Have a plan in place of how to secure outdoor furniture, pools, pool toys, fire pits, trampolines and grills.
- Have all electronics charged, including battery packs and portable chargers.
- Place generators outside and away from your home as much as possible.
For more information on how to prepare for any severe threat, visit ready.gov.