We might not have hurricanes, but around here, winter is coming with its ice storms, and other disasters always lurk.
Local emergency-management coordinators say their big fears are ice storms, tornadoes, an earthquake and flooding.
Fairview Heights Fire Chief Bryan Doyle sighs at the thought of 2006, when his city was hit by both a tornado and an ice storm.
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“Tornadoes hit and the immediate danger is gone,” he said. “That same year, we had an ice storm. If you remember, it lasted about three days, and it just kept coming and coming and coming.”
His concern with ice storms is that people shelter in place, which is usually safer given road conditions that render even firetrucks helpless. But people then use kitchen stoves and other unsafe ways to keep themselves warm when the power goes out.
“All parts of the country have things to worry about. Snow doesn’t bother us, we can get around in snow. But ice storms: We put extra people on, and pay the volunteers to stay here so we have a quicker response,” he said.
Emergency coordinators note that ice storms can cause widespread power outages while temperatures are dangerously cold. They also can make travel treacherous, and inundate police agencies with traffic crashes. During the ice storm that hit the metro-east last year, some police agencies were so swamped with car crashes that they asked fire crews to begin handling some of the crashes on their own.
Belleville Fire Chief Tom Pour lives “in a constant state of” preparedness and has three days’ worth of food, water and more for 200 first-responders. At three days, he says, any additional needed help should be arriving from outside Southern Illinois.
The event that Pour frequently references is the tornado in Joplin, Mo., in 2011 that killed 158 people and injured more than 1,100. He noted that the tornado left Joplin vulnerable in another way — inability to effectively fight fires.
“You wouldn’t think — if it’s a tornado, it’s above ground,” and wouldn’t cause problems underground. “All those houses ripped up water lines ... there was no pressure to fight fires,” after the tornado, he said.
Herb Simmons, director of St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, worries about the aftermath of an earthquake.
“We want to focus on New Madrid, that’s a serious thing I worry about more than anything. There would be calls for help from everywhere,” he said.
“We hear of all the minor quakes all around us even in the bootheel of Missouri. When you go and actually start seeing these (emergency plans), and the slides the experts are showing at EMA, it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” Simmons said.
Simmons says emergency management officials and other first-responders keep generators, pumps and all manner of supplies “scattered.”
“The thing that keeps you up at night is the unknown. Stay vigilant on storms, work with National Weather Service — a lot of times you’re up and it goes away, and you take a deep breath and say, ‘Thank you.’”
Prepare like it’s a hurricane
“We’re not concerned about hurricanes,” said Todd Fulton, director of Madison County’s Emergency Management Agency. “But we’re still prepared as if it can happen to us.”
Earthquakes are on his mind, he said, “but all these things have predictors.”
“As we approach (winter), get out of September, October and get into November, my mindset changes to winter storms,” Fulton said.
“Fall seasons are pretty much a low percentage for Madison County, but as we approach the winter months — the last winter storm was pretty costly to the area.”
A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items from www.ready.gov.
- Water:one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food: at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
- First aid kit
- Extra batteries
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Manual can opener for food
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery