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Information on Natural Disasters


Floods | Hurricanes | Tornadoes | Earthquakes | Extreme Heat | Extreme Cold

The Prince William Health District is no stranger to weather-related emergencies. Floods, hurricanes, an earthquake, tornados, extreme heat and winter weather have all impacted our area in recent years.

Floods

Did you know that floods are the nation’s most common natural disaster? Flooding can develop slowly during an extended period of rain. Flooding can also occur quickly, such as flash floods, even without any visible signs of rain.  Be prepared for flooding no matter where you live, but particularly if you are in a low-lying area, near water or downstream from a dam. Even a very small stream or dry creek bed can overflow and create flooding.

Key Facts about Flooding:

  • Property insurance does not typically cover flood damage. Analyze your policy and determine if you need additional coverage.
  • Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a flood hazard.
    • Flood Watch or Flash Flood Watch: there is an increased possibility of flooding or a flash flood in your area.
    • Flood Warning: flooding is occurring or will likely occur very soon. If you are advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
    • Flash Flood Warning: flash flooding is occurring. Seek higher ground immediately; do not wait for further instructions.
  • Be prepared to evacuate. Do not return to your home until authorities say it is safe to do so.
  • Drinking water may be contaminated. Listen for information from local authorities before using tap water for drinking or personal hygiene. See the Health and Safety Following an Emergency section below for additional information.
  • Never eat food that has come in contact with flood water. Remember – “When it doubt, throw it out.”
  • Never play in floodwater. In addition to the possibility of drowning, flood waters may contain raw sewage, chemicals and other toxins that are dangerous to your health.
  •  Do not walk through moving water, if possible. What may seem like a small amount of moving water can easily knock you down.
  • Never drive through flooded areas. If your vehicle becomes surrounded by rising water, get out quickly and move to higher ground. Remember – “Turn around, don’t drown.”
  • Flood water might cut off access to roads. Make sure your Disaster Supply Kit is fully stocked.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)


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Hurricanes

Hurricane hazards come in many forms, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, inland flooding, high winds, tornadoes, and rip currents.

Key Facts about Hurricanes:

  • Hurricanes do not have to make landfall or move directly across our area to cause great damage.
  • Learn the terms that are used to identify a hurricane.
    • Tropical Storm Watch:  issued when tropical storm conditions, including winds from 39 to 73 mph, pose a possible threat to a specified area within 48 hours
    • Tropical Storm Warning:  issued when tropical storm conditions are expected to affect a specified area within 36 hours or less
    • Hurricane Watch:issued for a specified area when hurricane conditions, including sustained winds of 74 mph or great, are possible within 48 hours.
    • Hurricane Warning:  issued for a specified area when hurricane conditions are expected within 36 hours.  In coastal or near-coastal areas, a hurricane warning can remain in effect when dangerously high water, or a combination of dangerously high water and exceptionally high waves, continues, even though the winds may have subsided below hurricane intensity. 
  • The eye is the calm center of a hurricane. Don't be fooled if wind and rain stop during a hurricane. You may just be in the eye of the storm. Listen to the radio to find out when the storm has really passed.
  • More people are killed by freshwater floods during a hurricane than by any other hazard. Never play in floodwater. In addition to the possibility of drowning, flood waters may contain raw sewage, chemicals and other toxins that are dangerous to your health.
  • Expect power outages and damages caused by high winds.
  • Be prepared for the possibility of tornadoes.
  • Prepare to evacuate to a shelter or to a neighbor's home if your home is damaged, or if you are instructed to do so by emergency personnel. Be sure to address the needs of individuals with special medical needs and your pets when developing your evacuation plans.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
National Weather Service – National Hurricane Center (NWS)


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Tornadoes

Tornadoes can form anywhere, at any time of the day, and at any time of the year. Unlike hurricanes, there is no “season.” Tornadoes can appear suddenly and without warning and may be invisible until debris and dust is picked up or a funnel cloud appears. Acting quickly is essential to surviving a tornado.

Key Facts about Tornadoes:

  • A tornado is "a violently rotating column of air, pendant from a cumuliform cloud or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and often (but not always) visible as a funnel cloud” (Glossary of Meteorology).
  • The average speed of a tornado is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.
  • The strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 200 mph.
  • When conditions are warm, humid, and windy, or skies are threatening, monitor for severe weather watches and warnings by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, logging onto weather.gov or tuning into local media outlets.
  • You must respond quickly when a tornado watch or warning is issued.
    • Tornado Watch :   a tornado is possible in your area.  You should monitor weather-alert radios and local radio and TV stations for information. 
    • Tornado Warning :  a tornado has been sighted in the area or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar. When a warning is issued, take cover immediately
  • Determine in advance where you will take cover in case of a tornado warning.  Keep this safe location uncluttered.
  • Storm cellars or basements provide the best protection. Do not remain inside of a mobile home.
  • If underground shelter is not available, go into a windowless interior room, closet or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
  • Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.  Go to the center of the room.  Stay away from corners because they attract debris.
  • If you are in a high-rise building, you may not have enough time to go to the lowest floor.  Pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.
  • A vehicle, trailer or mobile home does not provide good protection.  Plan to go quickly to a building with a strong foundation, if possible.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM)
National Weather Service (NWS)


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Drop! Cover! Rool

Earthquakes

Although uncommon, earthquakes have and do occur in Virginia. Since it is not possible to predict when a geologic event will occur, you must ensure that you and your family are prepared.

Key Facts about Earthquakes:

  • During or immediately after an earthquake, the best protection is to get under heavy furniture, such as a desk, table or bench, staying away from large windows, mirrors or other glass.
  • The greatest danger is directly outside buildings, at exits and along exterior walls, due to falling debris.
  • If you are already outside, stay clear of buildings, power lines, overpasses and elevated expressways.
  • Most deaths and injuries are due to falling walls, flying glass or debris.
  • Expect aftershocks – smaller quakes (and sometimes larger ones) can often follow hours or days after the initial shake, causing further damage to weakened buildings and structures.
  • Check for gas leaks – if you smell gas or hear a hissing or blowing noise, open a window and leave the building immediately; turn off the gas at the outside main valve, if possible and call the gas company.
  • If your home shows structural damage, check with a professional contractor to determine if it is safe. To obtain the name of a licensed contractor or building inspector, contact your insurance or mortgage company. You can check a contractor’s license at www.dpor.virginia.gov. Click on License Lookup.
  • If you have difficulty getting safely to the floor on your own, get as low as possible, protect our head and neck, and move away from windows or other items that can fall on you.
    • If you are in a wheelchair, lock your wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. Always protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Emergency Management
Federal Emergency Management Agency


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Extreme Heat

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Extreme Heat

Each year heat-related illnesses and deaths occur in Virginia. Staying cool, hydrated and informed can save lives. Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme conditions, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature. Most head disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition.  Elderly people (65 years and older), infants and children and people with chronic medical conditions are more prone to heat stress.

Key Facts about Extreme Heat:

  • Keep your body temperature cool to avoid heat-related illness.
    • Stay in air-conditioned buildings as much as possible.
    • Find an air-conditioned shelter.
    • Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.
    • Avoid direct sunlight.
    • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing.
    • Take cool showers or baths.
  • Stay hydrated.
    • Drink more water than usual.
    • Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink more fluids.
    • Drink from two to four cups of water every hour while working or exercising outside.
    • Avoid alcohol or liquids containing high amounts of sugar.
    • Remind others to drink enough water.
  • Stay informed.
    • Monitor for extreme heat alerts and safety tips.
    • Learn the symptoms of heat-related illness.
    • For more information, please click here.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Virginia Department of Emergency Management
Federal Emergency Management Agency


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Extreme Cold

pdf icon PWHD Information Sheet: Cold Weather Safety

The Prince William Health District encourages residents to protect themselves against serious health problems that can result from prolonged exposure to the cold.  Making sure your family is safe during severe weather begins long before the first forecast or weather-related problem. Every individual and family should have a disaster supply kit to help them stay healthy and safe.

Here are several steps you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe:
 

  • Have an emergency kit prepared with supplies such as an alternate fuel source for heating your home, flashlights and batteries in your home and car, blankets, food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, a three day supply of water, prescription medicines, a battery operated radio and flashlights, battery powered cell phone chargers, snow shovel etc. Learn more about preparing a winter preparedness plan by visiting, www.readyvirginia.gov.
  • Winterize your home by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows. In addition, if you use woodstoves or fireplaces to heat your home, remember to have them professionally serviced and cleaned.
  • Check batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors.
  • Prepare your vehicle with emergency supplies and have maintenance service on your vehicle as often as the manufacturer recommends.

 
What is the best clothing for cold weather?

  • Hat
  • Scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
  • Sleeves that are snug at the wrist
  • Mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
  • Water-resistant coat and shoes
  • Several layers of loose-fitting clothing

Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body. Do not ignore shivering. It's an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing for winter emergencies and observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems.

For additional information, please visit:
Virginia Department of Health
Virginia Department of Emergency Management
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Federal Emergency Management Agency


Last Updated: 05-08-2013

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