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Information and Frequently Asked Questions in the Event of a Disaster

Frequently Asked Questions in the Event of a Disaster:

(via RaleighNC.gov 

We have compiled some of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for disasters.

What should I do after a natural disaster strikes?  

Although each disaster situation is unique, there are some general guidelines you should follow:

1. Use extreme caution when entering or working in buildings that may have been damaged or weakened by a disaster, as they may collapse without warning. Also, there may be gas leaks or electrical short circuits in the building.
2. Do not take lanterns, torches or lighted cigarettes into buildings that have been flooded or otherwise damaged since there may be leaking gas lines or flammable material present.
3. Stay away from fallen or damaged electrical wires, which may still be dangerous. (Consider ALL wires to be dangerous, including telephone wires.)
4. If any of your electrical appliances are wet, first turn off the main power switch in your house, then unplug the wet appliance. Allow the wet appliance to fully dry, and then plug in the appliance, and then turn on the main power switch. (NEVER perform these steps if you are wet or in standing water.) If the fuses blow when the electrical power is restored, turn off the main power switch and contact your utility company.
5. If you smell gas in your house, immediately exit the house and notify the gas company and the fire department from a neighbor's house. Do not re-enter the home until you are told it's safe.
6. Check your food and water supplies before using them. Foods that require refrigeration may be spoiled if electrical power has been off for an extended period of time. Also, do not eat food that has come into contact with flood waters.
7. Stay away from disaster areas. Sightseeing will only interfere with first aid or rescue work.
8. Do not drive unless absolutely necessary.
9. Do not spread rumors about the disaster situation.
10. Follow the advice and instructions of your local government authorities on ways to help yourself and your community recover from disaster.


What tips do you have for recovering from a house fire?  

Cleaning fire damage can be difficult. Cloths can be used to clean soot off hardwood furniture, however for upholstered furniture or more extensive damage, you may consider contacting a restoration company. Look in the Yellow Pages under "fire and water damage." Smoke damaged clothes should be taken to a professional cleaning service. Wash canned foods in detergent and water. Do not use canned foods when the cans have bulged, dented, or rusted, and do not re-freeze food that has been thawed.


What hints do you have for recovering from floods or general water damage?  

Your first concern should be water extraction. It might be necessary to contact a professional extraction service, normally located under "carpet" service in the Yellow Pages. If the floors have carpet, it may be necessary to pull up the carpet and pull the pad out to dry. If you do not dry the carpet and pad, permanent damage (including mold and mildew) may occur. If your furniture becomes wet, place aluminum foil under furniture legs to prevent "bleeding" on the carpet. If you suffer only damp carpets, furniture, and walls, adjust your air conditioner to "cool" and your furnace to "hot." Both air conditioners and heaters dry the air, and the drier the air, the faster your personal belongings will dry. Any remaining mud and dirt on the walls should be cleaned with plain water and a brush.


What do the various weather watches and warnings mean that are issued by the National Weather Service?  

The National Weather Service (NWS) disseminates watches and warnings to help citizens, businesses, and visitors prepare for severe weather. The following are several weather statements released by the NWS.

  • Tornado Watch--This means that tornadoes are possible in the watch area. If you live in this area you should remain alert for approaching storms and monitor the weather situation.

  • Tornado Warning--This means a tornado has been either visually sighted or spotted on weather radar. If a tornado warning is issued for your area, take shelter immediately.

  • Thunderstorm Watch--This means a storm of significant strength may develop producing large hail or damaging winds.

  • Thunderstorm Warning--This means severe thunderstorms are occurring. The dangers that can accompany a severe thunderstorm include: flash floods, lightning, straight-line winds and large hail.

  • Flash flood or Flood Watch--This means flooding is possible in the designated area. If you live in this area, remain on alert and monitor the weather.

  • Flash Flood or Flood Warning--This means flooding has been reported or is imminent. Take precautions now.

  • Urban and Small Stream Advisory--This means flooding of small streams, streets, and low-lying areas such as railroad underpasses and urban storm drains, is occuring.In flood situations, know where high ground is, abandon stalled cars, never attempt to outrun a flood in your vehicle, and do not drive through flooded areas.

  • Winter Storm Watch--This means severe winter conditions such as heavy snow or ice are possible within the next day or two in the watch area. Start to prepare now!

  • Winter Storm Warning--This means severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in the warning area. A winter storm usually means snowfall of 6 inches or more in a 12 hour period, or 8 inches or more in a 24 hour period. Stay indoors!

  • Blizzard Warning--This means the NWS expects considerable snowfall with temperatures below freezing, and winds of at least 35 miles per hour. Expect potentially life threatening wind chill, deep drifts, and blinding snow.

  • Freezing Rain/Drizzle--This means rain is likely to freeze as soon as it strikes the ground, putting a coating of ice or glaze on highways.


What is the National Flood Insurance Program?  

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was created by Congress in 1968, and is currently administered by the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA), a division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The NFIP was created to reduce financial losses (resulting from flooding) incurred by private citizens and public entities. Standard homeowner's insurance policies do not cover damage caused by flooding, yet flooding results in over 90% of all property damage caused by natural disasters. You are eligible to purchase flood insurance if your community participates in the NFIP. Flood insurance policies can be purchased through any licensed insurance agent. Premium rates are established by the NFIP and vary according to the property's location, building design, the age of the building, elevation, and other risk factors. Flood insurance is available to protect single family homes, condominiums, apartments and non-residential buildings including commercial structures.


What should I do if threatened by a tornado?  

Windblown debris poses the greatest risk of injury or death from tornadoes. Stay away from windows and avoid the inside corners of a building. Do not open windows because this causes deadly debris to enter!

  • In Your Home--The safest location is in a basement. If you do not have a basement, seek shelter on the lowest floor in an interior small room or hallway (e.g., a closet or bathroom without windows).

  • In a Mobile Home--Seek shelter in a sturdy building. If one is not available, crouch low in a dry ditch, ravine, or culvert and cover your head with your hands.

  • In a High Rise Building--Go to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Do not use elevators!

  • In schools, nursing homes, shopping centers, and hospitals--Stay away from open spaces with wide, free-span roofs such as dining halls, gymnasiums, and auditoriums. Go to pre-designated shelter-areas!

For emergency cooking inside your home, you can always use the fireplace. If you don't have a fireplace, you can also heat food with candle warmers, chafing dishes and fondue pots. Camping stoves should only be used outdoors to heat food. Canned food can be eaten right out of the can, however be sure to first open the can and remove the label before heating. Always remember to take fire safety precautions!

How can I purify water?  

In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis. You should always purify uncertain water sources before using it for drinking, food preparation or hygiene. There are many ways to purify water; however NO ONE WAY IS PERFECT! Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Two easy purification methods will be discussed below. These measures will kill most microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Before purifying water, allow any suspended particles to settle to the bottom of the container, or strain them through layers of paper towel or clean cloth.

  • BOILING: Boiling is the safest method of purifying water. Bring water to a rolling boil for 3 to 5 minutes, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This will also improve the taste of stored water.

  • DISINFECTION: You can use household liquid bleach to kill microorganisms. Use only regular household bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners. Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage, stir, and let stand for 15 minutes. Remember, the only agent used to purify water should be household liquid bleach. Other chemicals, (i.e., iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores) that do not contain 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.



What should I do if threatened by lightning?  


You need to stay away from water or metal objects (e.g., fences, metal bleachers, machinery, and power tools). Avoid being caught out in open spaces or the high ground. Lightning is the second most frequent killer behind floods and flash floods and it can branch off of trees, fences, poles, or tall objects and strike people. You do not even have to be directly under the thunderstorm for lightning to be a danger. Remember, lightning can strike up to several miles away from the thunderstorm. If you are inside a hardtop vehicle, stay there; this is one of the safest places to be in a thunderstorm. If you feel your skin tingle or hair stand on end, drop to your knees and crouch down (lying flat on the ground will cause lightning to more easily pass through vital organs). Do not bunch up with other people.


If a thunderstorm is nearby do not shower or bath, because lightning can feed back into the plumbing system. Stay away from open windows or patios. Do not use a telephone except in emergencies, because current can travel through the line.


How can I prepare for the financial consequences of a disaster?  

Conduct a Household Audit. Start by documenting your household possessions. You can create a written list, produce a videotape or take still photographs. It is important that you include all items that could be lost if disaster strikes. Include your clothing, kitchen appliances, bedding and house wares. Remember, this is your opportunity to insure a fair accounting of your possessions. Recommendations:

  1. Record serial numbers found on electronic equipment and other critical items.

  2. Photograph or videotape your automobiles, recreational vehicles, bicycles, and other outdoor equipment.

  3. Retain receipts, canceled checks or invoices on particularly valuable items.

  4. Appraise art work, jewelry, and collectibles.

  5. Original wills should be kept with the local registrar of wills or with your attorney. Copies can be kept elsewhere.

  6. Photograph or videotape the exterior of your home. Include landscaping and other outside improvements. This provides a visual record of your home before and after a disaster.

Are there any guidelines for sending donations to a disaster area?  

Everyone wants to help disaster victims. To insure that you are doing the best to aid these victims, the National Steering Committee (composed of representatives from various private voluntary groups and the emergency management community) have developed guidelines you can use.

  • Contributions of Cash

This is the best method. Donations of money allow professional relief organizations to purchase exactly what is most urgently needed by disaster victims and to pay for the transportation necessary to distribute the supplies. In addition, donations of money to a recognized relief organization are tax deductible and allow the relief supplies to be purchased in locations near the disaster site. This stimulates the economy and ensures supplies will arrive as quickly as possible.

  • Confirm the Need

Exactly what is needed can be confirmed by checking with a relief organization on site at the disaster, or by calling the FEMA or state toll free numbers set up to provide such information. Only provide the requests associated with the needs list which is current and appropriate for the victims being served.

  • Donate through an Organization

Before starting a collection of goods to send to a disaster site, it is essential to locate a reliable relief organization willing to receive shipment of donated goods. When unsolicited truckloads of items arrive at a disaster site there is often no place to unload the goods.

  • Transportation Must be Planned in Advance

Do not assume that unsolicited relief supplies will be transported at no charge. Local trucking companies may be wiling to help in times of disaster if funds are available to cover part of the expense. Some volunteer agencies traveling to the disaster site can deliver the donations or they may be able to identify other possible means of providing donations to the site.

  • Donated Items Must be Well-Packed and Labeled

It is more efficient for the relief workers when the items are properly sorted, clearly labeled and are ready for distribution.

What is a NOAA Weather Radio?  

A NOAA Weather Radio is a dedicated radio enabling the listener to receive real time weather information provided by the National Weather Service. The information provided includes current weather conditions, local forecasts, travel and recreational forecasts, as well as climatology data. Weather messages are repeated every 4 to 6 minutes and are updated every 1 to 3 hours. (Note: updates occur more frequently in rapidly changing or hazardous weather conditions.) During severe weather, live broadcasts are made to notify listeners of potential hail, flooding, tornadoes, blizzard conditions, and other weather warnings. NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts can usually be heard as far as 40 miles from a transmitter. The latest feature added to the NOAA Weather Radio allows a listener the option of hearing warnings for specific areas, typically a county-area. These tone-alert radios can be purchased at many electronic stores, however it is a good idea to "call around" to confirm which stores actually sell the NOAA radios. If you are surrounded by tall buildings in a city or you are located in a mountain valley, a good quality antenna may be required.