Tuscaloosa Safe Room Survives EF-4 Tornado

Photo Credit: FEMA
William Blakeney grew up in Tuscaloosa County and is well aware of the effects of disasters in the area. In an effort to prepare for disasters like the tornadoes in mid and late April 2011, he built a safe room in his grandparents’ home. Although they weren’t home when the storms devastated the area, the only portion of their home left standing was the multipurpose safe room.

Blakeney and his construction company had built a few safe rooms in the past, mainly in their family members’ homes. While not built according to the design criteria of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s publication FEMA 320,Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business, this safe room was able to withstand the strong winds of the EF-4 tornado that ravaged the area.

FEMA 320 includes construction plans and cost estimates for building individual safe rooms. A safe room, built according to the standards outlined in FEMA 320, in a home or small business provides "near-absolute protection" for its occupants.

Alabama Family Takes Refuge from April Tornado in Safe Room

Pre-fabricated safe room Photo Credit: FEMA
When an EF-5 tornado struck the western part of Jefferson County, Alabama, near Birmingham, on April 8, 1998, Rebecca Henderson and her family had taken refuge under her mobile home. Damage to Henderson’s home was major. The front door and left side were gone. Yet, she considered herself lucky because the church next door was completely destroyed. The sight of the destruction convinced her that she needed a safe room.

Generators for Back-up Power

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experiences and insight from last week's storm.

1.) The time to buy a generator is before you need it.

2.) Think through a power outage scenario and evaluate what you need to keep powered in an emergency – medical equipment, freezer, refrigerator, small window air conditioner (in the event of life-threatening heat) or at least a fan, cell phone chargers, radios and televisions (for news of course), lamps, etc.

Chicago Storm Lessons Learned and Preparations that Paid:

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experiences and insight during last week's storm.

This was a good “drill” for something more serious.  What if we couldn’t have driven to McDonald’s for breakfast each day?  What if a tree had fallen on our house?  What if we couldn’t get home?  What if gasoline was scarce?  Do I have appetizing shelf-stable food to eat in the first 48 hours before we were forced to grill up everything in the freezer?  Did I have the fuel to grill all that food?

From now on I’ll be putting high-value items in the deep freeze.  I threw out lobster tails, some specialty cuts of lamb, and our favorite sausages because they thawed so quickly in the refrigerator’s freezer (in about four hours) and not the deep freeze.  And veggies, frozen pizzas, ice cream, and  bread will go in the refrigerator's freezer.  I can bear to lose veggies over meat and seafood.

Power Outage Day Two and The Great Generator Search

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experiences and insight from last week's storm.

Chocolate! After a hot night of hearing every airplane fly over, every emergency vehicle whiz by, and the neighbor’s coveted generator, we were a little crabby.  I opened up a Hershey’s bar and gave everyone a piece before we headed out for breakfast from McDonald’s.  It helped.

We got word from the power company that our projected recovery time was 2-3 days (upgraded from 4-5), so I started seriously calling around to see if we could find a generator.  The refrigerator would already have to be dumped, and we were unsure about the contents of the freezer part, but a full deep freeze keeps food frozen and safe for up to 48 hours.  As we approached 36 hours, if we wanted to save that freezer (and we did!), we needed to figure something out fast.

The Big Chicago Storm and Power Outage: Day One

Everyday Providence blogger, Jennifer, shares her experience and insight from last week's storm.

When we got in the car, it was a hazy, but sunny day.  We hadn’t had rain a week and the skies were just partly cloudy, but off to the west the horizon was dark.  I wondered if we’d have some showers. As we pulled onto the McDonald's near our house (maybe 7 minutes) the sky blackened. Suddenly, the restaurant's power went out, along with the rest of the shopping center, and I could see emergency lights pop on in every store.  Power flickered on momentarily, then it cut out again. As we headed toward the drive-through and a manager came out to tell us that they were closed.  Just after that, a wind so strong came through that I was looking all around for a tornado (or a dementer from Azkaban).  Trees were pushed sideways.  Rain was coming in the car.  The car was shaking, shuddering and rocking side to side.

Gross! Where did these pests come from?

We agree that bugs, lizards, snakes, and rats are bothersome as uninvited house guests.  But even sweet, furry woodland creatures are a catastrophe in your home.  There are a host of creatures that seem to be creeping into residences all over the US right now.  What's going on?

Bugs and other animals are influenced by many of the same weather disasters we have been facing here in the US.  Over the past few months, flooding and wildfires have forced many bugs and animals out of their natural habitat, often into residential and suburban areas that are build above flood plains.  Drought in other areas pushes wildlife to travel great distances seeking water that is often found in parks, fountains, pools, well watered lawns and possibly your bathtub.  Severe heat creates desperate situations for insects and animals that must seek any shelter, and some smaller creatures may find your home a comfortable fit.

Functional Friday: 10 Things to Keep Kids Occupied, Entertained, and (if you're lucky) Learning

Many of these ideas are old-school.  But I find that I need reminded of some good ideas, and I hope these help you, too.

1) Write a letter to someone.  Kids still find the postal system a wonderment.  Let them write a letter or just color a picture or two.  Then address and stamp an envelope (You'll need to do this for little ones, but let them watch.), and let them slide it in the mail box.

2) Give them a box of office supplies.  Tape, a stapler, colored papers, card stock, all sizes of envelopes, a whole punch, binders, pens and markers, Post-It notes... whatever you have (and seems age appropriate) will likely entertain them for quite a while.

Getting in (or out of) Your Garage in a Disaster

Let's take a look at the safety of your garage not only from intruders, but also from a disaster safety point of view. 

  • You need to be able to access your garage during a power outage.  If the garage is attached to your home or has manual doors, you're probably fine.  But if your doors are only power lift doors, be certain that you have another walk-in door or access that you can use when the power goes out.
  • Also, be certain that all the drivers in the family know how to disengage the door lift motor and manually lift the door.  In a weather or earthquake related emergency, you may need to make a quick exit by car.

A Half Tank of Gas

How often do you come dangerously close to running out of gas, stretching the fumes to run that last quick errand? It's a worthy goal to be sure, but keeping your car at half a tank or more could make all the difference. Here are a few benefits to making a half tank your new cue to fill 'er up.

  • You'll never run out of gas. (I know it's obvious, but I've done it at least once... in the drive thru of a restaurant, no less.)

Food Safety in Power Outages

Everyday Providence author, Jennifer, is putting theory into practice during day two of a likely prolonged power outage.  Although power was restored to over half a million people in less than 24 hours, she and over 400,000 of her neighbors are facing heat, humidity, and up to a week until power is returned to their homes.  She emailed me with her situation report, tentative plans and a few questions dealing with food safety.  It's high time we publish a emergency food safety article, so here it is!

12 Practical Ways to Beat the Heat

It's a scorcher here in the Midwest! Daily highs over 100 and humidity boosting the heat index even higher... everyone must find relief.  If you can simply hide out in your air conditioned home for a few days... perfect!  But if you cannot, here are a few tips to keep you safe and sound.
  • Avoid spending time outdoors when the temperature exceeds 95. If you must be outdoors, drink plenty of water and/or electrolyte replacement (up to a pint an hour if you are working hard and sweating),

10 Things: Prepare to Use Technology in a Disaster

9/11, Katrina, Haiti... these events changed the world.  They also changed the way we think about using  personal technology during a disaster.  Although we ought to prepare for a day when utilities and communications come crashing down, the truth is that some towers will stand, some messages will get through, and some connections will endure.  So taking a little time to anticipate what technology resources you might want and need in an emergency setting may be time well spent.

Make Your Own Basic First Aid Kit

Sure you can run to the store and grab a boxed first aid kit.  Go for it!  But with four young kids I'll use every last bandage on the first outing. I decided this summer to put together my own kit for the car that could last through a busy, fun-filled week and will suit our needs better.  I also found it's easier to restock using standard sized packages. (And my kids prefer pirate or princess bandages, anyway!)