Sunday, December 28, 2008

Don't Pet the Alligators

Yesterday, I received a thank-you letter from an area school in the mail. In November, I had been asked to do a hurricane presentation to some 1st-graders in Kansas City. Seems they had just finished a unit on extreme weather, and wanted to hear from a Red Cross volunteer who had experienced hurricanes first hand. I put together a power point presentation and headed out - and boy, was it fun! Their thank-you note was an added bonus! Here is a brief synopsis of what I called, "Don't Pet the Alligators."

The presentation focused on preparations before, survival during, and clean-up afterwards, a hurricane. Here are my tips, as presented to a 1st-grade audience.

Tip #1: ALWAYS evacuate before a hurricane. That's the BEST way to survive a hurricane, hands down. Either find a motel room, call a friend or relative, or head to a Red Cross shelter. Here's a photo of a FEMA tent (this was in Galveston, during Hurricane Ike), which is very much what a shelter will look like.

Tip #2: If you can't evacuate, be sure you are stocked up EARLY on food. And gas. This is because the power is likely to go out for several days, if not longer, after the storm - which means grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations may not be open for business. Don't wait until the day before the hurricane to purchase your supplies - I made this mistake during Hurricane Gustav. I went to "Wally World" about 5 hours before the hurricane was due, and I found the following:

The picture's a little blurry - but you can see my point - the shelves were EMPTY! There was nothing left - seriously! Yikes! So, lesson learned - don't wait until the last minute to stock up on water, food and gas. The lines to the gas station were long - and a lot of gas stations were closed, because they had ran out of gas:

Tip #3: If you can't evacuate, after you've stocked up on water, food and gas - move your car to high ground and then find a safe shelter for yourself. Flooding is a natural consequence of hurricanes - so, if you can move your car to high ground (preferably an indoor parking garage - on an upper floor), you'll have transportation after the storm. As far as yourself, make sure you're in a strong building - preferably concrete. A major killer in hurricanes are trees falling down on houses - be sure you are aware of your surroundings.

Tip #4: During the hurricane, don't go outside to try to capture the moment on film. Let the guys from The Weather Channel and CNN do that. They're being paid to be foolish - you're not. Stay indoors and out of the storm.

Tip #5: After the storm, wait for the all-clear from the authorities before venturing out. And don't go out unless you HAVE to. If the power is out, then that means the stop lights aren't working - which can lead to major traffic tie-ups, as people try to maneuver their way around. A lot of traffic can be a nightmare for emergency personnel trying to navigate the roads.

Tip #6: If you've evacuated, and you're now back at your property to check for damages, be careful of displaced wildlife. It's not unusual for storm surges to "deposit" unwelcome animals in your yard. Take a look at this photo, that I took in Sabine Pass, TX, shortly after Ike:

This is one angry, confused and pissed off alligator that someone was trying to remove from their front yard. I told the kids, "Don't pet the alligators"...but the same can be said of any animal you encounter. If you see the neighbor's "friendly" dog roaming the street after the storm, don't try to approach it and pet it - it could be very frightened and confused, and this can lead to bites and attacks. Let the experts handle the dogs, cats and other wildlife that are displaced.

Tip #7: Wear gloves and masks while cleaning your property. If your property was flooded, who knows what stuff was in the flood waters - think of it as a giant cesspool, swirling around your stuff. Use gloves and be sure to wash and sterilize everything. Don't let your children pick up their favorite toys before they're washed. Use hand sanitizer like there's no tomorrow.

Tip #8: Take care of yourself - and your family - FIRST. Stuff is stuff - it can be replaced. Don't forget to take care of you and your family - drink LOTS of water, take breaks, and remember to breathe. Everything won't get done in one day - it's not a race, but a marathon, to clean up after a natural disaster. That's why it's called a DISASTER. You are way more important than stuff.

So, that's it...the 'shortened' version of the presentation that I did - my actual presentation had to last over an hour, so it had lots and lots of photos!

If you ever have any questions, feel free to contact me, or your local American Red Cross chapter. We're always here to help!

Be sure to do YOUR part today to save the world - one act at a time, one day at a time.


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