Memorial Day marks the start of the long-awaited, laid-back summer stretch. But between the backyard barbecues, family reunions and dips in the pool, danger could be one spark or one bad forecast away.
Do you know where your flashlights are?
Preparing for disaster, whether flood, wind, fire or power outage, isn’t as fun as planning your trip to the beach. And as Oklahoma’s recent tornadoes have shown us, a major disaster can devastate a community despite the most elaborate of preparations. But you gotta do it. Our summer emergency guide is packed with good advice from experts and safety specialists. They said that if you prepare ahead of time, you will be less stressed if and when disaster strikes. And if this year is anything like the last few, which brought us earthquakes, Hurricane Sandy and that nasty derecho, we have some rough days ahead.
So get familiar with your gutters and get over how your hair looks when you’re wearing a headlamp. Trim that dead branch hanging over your neighbor’s deck before it’s too late. Discuss a disaster plan for evacuation and sheltering in place with your family. Prepare more, worry less. So when everyone else is out scavenging bottled water, you can sit on your deck and savor one last margarita before the next summer emergency.
After last year’s derecho and Hurricane Sandy, there’s good reason to warily eye this year’s storm season, which, in the case of hurricanes, starts June 1. The derecho — a destructive, fast-traveling thunderstorm system that moved from the Midwest to the mid-Atlantic last June — and Sandy caused the two top power outages in the U.S. in 2012.
“It’s not if you are going to lose power, it’s really a matter of when,” said David Botkins, a spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power.
Stock up on flashlights, batteries, water and food, in addition to any medical supplies you might need. Botkins also recommends homeowners invest in a battery-operated radio so they can listen to weather reports and news alerts during an outage.
Have one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, Botkins said. Also stock food for several days for everyone in the family and your pets. Botkins also suggests having a couple of cans of gasoline to fuel your car in case local filling stations lose power.
If you have a well or septic system that runs on electricity, have extra water to flush toilets, said Lance Gregory of the Virginia Health Department. Filling your bathtub in advance is fine for flushing toilets, but if you are going to use that water for washing hands, brushing teeth, cooking or drinking, Gregory said, boil it first to decontaminate it.
Check your battery supplies now, Duracell spokesman Win Sakdinan said. Everyone should have plenty of batteries in sizes AA, AAA, C and D. Sakdinan said it’s a good idea to have enough to power your radios and flashlights for a week. And make sure you have flashlights or headlamps for every person in the home to have one, he said.
Fully charge your smartphone, tablet and laptop, and consider getting an Internet router that runs on batteries. Conserve energy in these devices by turning them off when you aren’t using them or putting them in battery conservation modes, Sakdinan said.
And when your power goes out, Botkins said, your first move should be to report the outage to your electric company. Don’t assume your neighbors have already called.
Avoid grill fires
The smell of burgers wafting from a neighbor’s back yard is one of the earliest signs of spring. But as people dust off their grills and gather around fire pits, they should carefully inspect their equipment and go over safety tips with their families to help prevent fires.
“The best advice we have is to make sure to keep grills and anything with an open flame on it, whether tiki torches, citronella candles or firepits, away from anything combustible,” said Gregg A. Karl, a captain in the Arlington County (Va.) Fire Prevention Office.
Gathering around a fire, whether at an outdoor kitchen, a chiminea or a stone outdoor fireplace, is a growing part of entertaining, according to Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association. “You should follow a lot of the same safety tips with these as with grills. Never leave them unattended and make sure that the fire is totally out before you leave them at the end of the event.” And never use a grill in a garage.
Four out of five families own a grill and barbecue at least once a week in the summer, according to Deborah Hanson, spokeswoman for First Alert, manufacturer of safety products. “We suggest a three-foot zone around the grill, whether it’s charcoal or propane,” Hanson said. “Keep kids and pets away and keep it away from siding, deck railings or overhanging branches. Clean the grill regularly and always remove the grease buildup from the trays underneath.”
Keep a fire extinguisher around, even if you’re not grilling. And “know how to use it ahead of time so you aren’t fooling around trying to figure that out when you need it,” Carli said.
If a fire breaks out in your backyard, call 911 before trying to fight it.