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Some Common Natural Hazards
View of a dead tree and fence row in a summer sunset.

Heat kills by pushing the human body beyond its limits. In extreme heat and high humidity, evaporation is slowed and the body must work extra hard to maintain a normal temperature.

Most heat disorders occur because the victim has been overexposed to heat or has over-exercised for his or her age and physical condition. Older adults, young children and those who are sick or overweight are more likely to succumb to extreme heat.

Conditions that can induce heat-related illnesses include stagnant atmospheric conditions and poor air quality. Consequently, people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than those living in rural areas. Also, asphalt and concrete store heat longer and gradually release heat at night, which can produce higher nighttime temperatures known as the "urban heat island effect."

A heat wave is an extended period of extreme heat, and is often accompanied by high humidity. These conditions can be dangerous and even life-threatening for humans who don't take the proper precautions.

Before Extreme Heat

To prepare for extreme heat, you should:

  • To begin preparing, you should build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
  • Install window air conditioners snugly; insulate if necessary.
  • Check air-conditioning ducts for proper insulation.
  • Install temporary window reflectors (for use between windows and drapes), such as aluminum foil-covered cardboard, to reflect heat back outside.
  • Weather-strip doors and sills to keep cool air in.
  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun with drapes, shades, awnings, or louvers. (Outdoor awnings or louvers can reduce the heat that enters a home by up to 80 percent.)
  • Keep storm windows up all year.
  • Listen to local weather forecasts and stay aware of upcoming temperature changes.
  • Know those in your neighborhood who are elderly, young, sick or overweight. They are more likely to become victims of excessive heat and may need help.
  • Be aware that people living in urban areas may be at greater risk from the effects of a prolonged heat wave than are people living in rural areas.
  • Get trained in first aid to learn how to treat heat-related emergencies.

Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify an extreme heat hazard:

Heat Wave - Prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity.

Heat Index - A number in degrees Fahrenheit (F) that tells how hot it feels when relative humidity is added to the air temperature. Exposure to full sunshine can increase the heat index by 15 degrees.

Heat Cramps - Muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are often the first signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.

Heat Exhaustion - Typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim's condition will worsen. Body temperature will keep rising and the victim may suffer heat stroke.

Heat Stroke - A life-threatening condition. The victim's temperature control system, which produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can rise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.

Sun Stroke - Another term for heat stroke.

Excessive Heat Watch - Conditions are favorable for an excessive heat event to meet or exceed local Excessive Heat Warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours.

Excessive Heat Warning - Heat Index values are forecast to meet or exceed locally defined warning criteria for at least 2 days (daytime highs=105-110° Fahrenheit).

Heat Advisory - Heat Index values are forecast to meet locally defined advisory criteria for 1 to 2 days (daytime highs=100-105° Fahrenheit).

During Extreme Heat

What you should do if the weather is extremely hot:

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio for critical updates from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Never leave children or pets alone in closed vehicles.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible and limit exposure to the sun.
  • Stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine if air conditioning is not available.
  • Postpone outdoor games and activities.
  • Consider spending the warmest part of the day in public buildings such as libraries, schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, and other community facilities. Circulating air can cool the body by increasing the perspiration rate of evaporation.
  • Eat well-balanced, light, and regular meals. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.
  • Drink plenty of water; even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid drinks with caffeine. Persons who have epilepsy or heart, kidney, or liver disease; are on fluid-restricted diets; or have a problem with fluid retention should consult a doctor before increasing liquid intake.
  • Limit intake of alcoholic beverages.
  • Dress in loose-fitting, lightweight, and light-colored clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Avoid dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Protect face and head by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Avoid strenuous work during the warmest part of the day. Use a buddy system when working in extreme heat, and take frequent breaks.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who do not have air conditioning and who spend much of their time alone.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes.
  • Check on your animals frequently to ensure that they are not suffering from the heat. Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power during periods of extreme heat. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).

Resources

Flood waters rising in a neighborhood of houses

This page explains what actions to take when you receive a flood watch or warning alert from the National Weather Service for your local area and what to do before, during, and after a flood.

Basic Safety Tips

  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown! ®
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.
  • Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and 2 feet of water can sweep your vehicle away.
  • If there is a chance of flash flooding, move immediately to higher ground. Flash floods are the #1 cause of weather-related deaths in the US.
  • If floodwaters rise around your car but the water is not moving, abandon the car and move to higher ground. Do not leave the car and enter moving water.
  • Avoid camping or parking along streams, rivers, and creeks during heavy rainfall. These areas can flood quickly and with little warning.

Flood watch

Flood Watch = “Be Aware.” Conditions are right for flooding to occur in your area.

Steps to Take

  • Turn on your TV/radio. You will receive the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.
  • Know where to go. You may need to reach higher ground quickly and on foot.
  • Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit. Include a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.

Prepare Your Home

  • Bring in outdoor furniture and move important indoor items to the highest possible floor. This will help protect them from flood damage.
  • Disconnect electrical appliances and do not touch electrical equipment if you are wet or standing in water. You could be electrocuted.
  • If instructed, turn off your gas and electricity at the main switch or valve. This helps prevent fires and explosions.

Flood warning

Flood Warning = "Take Action!"  Flooding is either happening or will happen shortly.

Steps to Take

  • Move immediately to higher ground or stay on high ground.
  • Evacuate if directed.
  • Avoid walking or driving through flood waters. Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down and 2 feet of water can sweep your vehicle away.

After a flood

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded and watch out for debris. Floodwaters often erode roads and walkways.
  • Do not attempt to drive through areas that are still flooded.
  • Avoid standing water as it may be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines.
  • Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.

When it is not flooding: Make a flood plan

  • Know your flood risk.
  • Make a flood emergency plan.
  • Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.
  • Consider buying flood insurance.
  • Familiarize yourself with local emergency plans. Know where to go and how to get there should you need to get to higher ground, the highest level of a building, or to evacuate.
  • Stay tuned to your phone alerts, TV, or radio for weather updates, emergency instructions, or evacuation orders.

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Helicopter spreading water over a forest fire.
This page explains what actions to take if you receive a fire weather watch alert from the National Weather Service for your local area and what to do before, during, and after a wildfire.
 

Basic Safety Tips

  • If you see a wildfire and haven't received evacuation orders yet, call 9-1-1. Don't assume that someone else has already called.
  • If ordered to evacuate during a wildfire, do it immediately- make sure and tell someone where you are going and when you have arrived.
  • Many communities have text or email alerting systems for emergency notifications.To find out what alerts are available in your area, search the Internet with your town, city, or county name and the word “alerts.”
  • If you or someone you are with has been burned, call 9-1-1 or seek help immediately; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.

Fire Weather Watch

Fire weather watch = dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours

Steps to Take

  • Turn on your TV/radio. You’ll get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.
  • Know where to go. If you are ordered to evacuate, know the route to take and have plan of where you will go. Check-in with your friends and family.
  • Keep your car fueled, in good condition, and stocked with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.

Prepare Your Home

  • Regularly clean the roof and gutters.
  • Maintain an area approximately 30’ away from you home that is free of anything that will burn, such as wood piles, dried leaves, newspapers and other brush.
  • Connect garden hoses long enough to reach any area of the home and fill garbage cans, tubs, or other large containers with water.
  • Review your homeowner's insurance policy and also prepare/update a list of your home's contents.

After a wildfire

Returning Home

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • For several hours after the fire, maintain a "fire watch." Check and re-check for smoke, sparks or hidden embers throughout the house, including the roof and the attic.
  • Use caution when entering burned areas as hazards may still exist, including hot spots, which can flare up without warning. Evacuate immediately if you smell smoke.

Cleaning Your Home

  • Wear a NIOSH certified-respirator (dust mask) and wet debris down to minimize breathing dust particles.
  • Discard any food that has been exposed to heat, smoke or soot.
  • Do NOT use water that you think may be contaminated to wash dishes, brush teeth, prepare food, wash hands, or to make ice or baby formula.
  • Photograph damage to your property for insurance purposes.

Before Wildfire season- Make a Wildfire plan

  • Know your wildfire risk.
  • Make a wildfire emergency plan.
  • Build or restock your emergency preparedness kit, including a flashlight, batteries, cash, and first aid supplies.
  • Familiarize yourself with local emergency plans. Know where to go and how to get there should you need to evacuate.
  • Stay tuned to your phone alerts, TV, or radio, for weather updates, emergency instructions or evacuation orders.

Community Events

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