Seminar tells how to prepare for storms

Alison Malek, Staff Writer

What do you do when severe weather affects you? This question among many others were answered on Saturday, March 24 when the Dark Skies Severe Weather Seminar was hosted at the Madison College Truax Campus. This seminar was coordinated and sponsored between Madison College and the Midwest Severe Storm Tracking and Response Center.

The seminar involved many interesting and unique professional speakers that work to inform their audience on various topics relating to severe weather. The master of ceremonies for the day was Gary Cannalte- Chief Meteorologist WISC TV Madison.

“Part of what is being informed is knowing what is in your area,” Gabriel Garriga, Community Preparedness officer for FEMA Region 5 stated, “and it’s very important to be informed.”

Garriga talked a lot about the tier of response starting at local government and organizations and making its way up into the federal government and the president’s declaration. He told a story about the aftermath of the Hurricane that hit Puerto Rico where all of the ports were destroyed and a lot of damage occurred.

Three questions Garriga had the seminar participants think about were: Where is the community? Why is this happening? Why is it still like this? An underlined point was that not everybody experiences things in the same way.

It is important to prepare in order to increase resilience. “The idea of community resilience is that the community is able to bounce back after a natural disaster,” said Garriga. If you have strong community relationships and build trust, then you create community resilience.

Garriga informed the seminar participants that there are a lot of necessities after a natural disaster. He explained, “If you don’t have electricity, you are eventually going to run out of water.” In Puerto Rico, severe storms are very common.

Garriga underlines that everyone has a role in community preparedness. He advised the audience to participate in community planning meetings in their area, participate in community mapping exercises, communicate needs of the community, understand capability if you support each other in the aftermath of a natural disaster, and work with your local community organizations. You can also become a certified Storm Spotter, be an advocate for preparedness and obtain first aid, CPR, AED and Red Cross Certifications.

“People do not pay attention to severe weather until it affects them… then they do,” Bill Eberle, from American Family Insurance said. Being an insurance agent, Eberle sees a lot of insurance claims due to damages from natural disasters on an annual basis.
He does inform us though, that there are not a lot of natural disasters as a result of tornados. The most recent tornado catastrophe was located in Stoughton, WI, in 2005. Eberle introduced us to an Enhanced Fujita Scale, a tool to measure the damage a tornado will cause. The biggest reported insurance claims were due to hail and wind damages.

“We can’t stop Mother Nature, but we can save lives and prevent property loss,” Eberle stated. When we hear storm warnings, we need to take cover. To best protect your family and home, close all exterior windows and stay away from garage doors. Recent studies actually advise us to also close are interior doors too whereas, the air tunnels through them if they are left open. Eberle informed us, “Every dollar spent on mitigation, saves the society six dollars in post disaster costs.” Please note that disaster damage insurance does not cover flood damage.

Eberle recommends the seminar participants to build fortified structures as it only cost $5,000-$10,000 more, a 3-5% construction cost increase.

“Which house would you like to live in: the house of straw or the house of bricks when the big bad wolf comes knocking on your door?” Eberle asks the seminar participants with his cleaver metaphor.

To prepare yourself for severe weather, have a pre designated area with no windows on the lowest building level. Close all interior and exterior doors, create a family emergency plan, put an emergency kit together including, water, flashlights, blankets, food items, and purchase an emergency generator to be installed by an electrician.

“The attitude out there is that it’s never going to happen to you, until it happens to you,” said Eberle.

There is even a club for the non-dangerous, but scary-looking clouds. The Scary-Looking Cloud Club, is a website created by Rusty Kapela who specializes on cloud structures.

“Untrained, uninformed people are more likely to call in a false tornado or funnel cloud report to 911 dispatchers,” Kapela informed the seminar participants. Sometimes these false reports even lead to tornado sirens going off. It is a common belief that if a tornado touches the ground it must be a tornado. For it to be a tornado it needs to have rotation, debris and cause damage. So how do you respond when severe weather heads your way?