Natural disasters such as floods, fires, earthquakes, tornadoes and windstorms affect thousands of people every year.
You should know what your risks are and prepare to protect yourself, your family and community.Recognizing these hazards and knowing what to do to protect yourself and your family ahead of time will help you be better prepared.
Some of the things you can do to prepare for the unexpected, such as assembling a supply kit and developing a family emergency plan, are the same for all types of hazards; however, each emergency is unique and can impact you in different ways.
Explore each section below to learn about how to prepare for specific disasters.
Earthquakes can and do occur in Virginia. Since it is not possible to predict when a geologic event will occur, it is essential that you and your family are prepared ahead of time.
Prepare for Earthquakes
- Prepare your Home
- Securely fasten shelves to walls.
- Keep large or heavy objects on lower shelves.
- Store breakable items in lower cabinets with doors and latches.
- Inspect and repair electrical wiring and gas connections; these can be potential fire hazards during an earthquake.
- Secure your water heater by strapping it to wall studs and bolting it to the floor.
- Check your home or building for structural defects and repair cracks in your ceiling and foundation.
- Keep toxic and flammable items securely stored in cabinets with doors and latches.
- Make a Plan
- Identify safe places in your home or office where you will ride out an earthquake. The best protection is under heavy furniture where you are protected from falling debris.
- Learn how to turn off electricity, gas and water.
During an Earthquake
- The greatest danger is directly outside buildings, at exits and along exterior walls, due to falling debris.
- During 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.
- If you are already outside, stay clear of buildings, power lines, overpasses and elevated expressways.
- 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.
Additional Earthquake Resources
Season: June 1 – November 30
Classification: Hurricanes are classified into five categories, based on wind speed and potential to cause damage:
- Category One – Winds 74-95 mph
- Category Two – Winds 96-110 mph
- Category Three – Winds 111-129 mph
- Category Four – Winds 130-156 mph
- Category Five – Winds greater than 157 mph
Prepare for Hurricanes
- Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a hurricane.
- Hurricane Watch: a hurricane is possible in your area (within the next 48 hours). Be prepared to evacuate. Monitor weather-alerting radios and local radio and television news outlets for information.
- Hurricane Warning: a hurricane is expected in your area (within the next 36 hours). If local authorities advise you to evacuate, leave immediately.
- Evacuation order: This is the most important instruction people affected by hurricanes will receive. If issued, leave immediately.
- Make a Plan
- Build or restock your basic disaster supplies kit, including food and water, a flashlight, batteries, chargers, 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 or to evacuate.
- Stay tuned to local wireless emergency alerts, TV, or radio for weather updates, emergency instructions, or evacuation orders.
- Prepare to secure your property.
- Cover all of your home’s windows with pre-cut plywood or hurricane shutters to protect your windows from high winds.
- Plan to bring in all outdoor furniture, decorations, garbage cans and anything else that is not tied down.
- Keep all trees and shrubs well trimmed.
- Lock the door behind you.
- Prepare to Evacuate
- Know the road conditions before you hit the highways.
- If you are not able to evacuate, make a plan to safely stay where you are.
During a Hurricane
- Stay out of flood waters. The water might be contaminated or electrically charged. Should you find yourself trapped in your vehicle in rising water, get out immediately and seek higher ground.
- Be alert for tornadoes and flooding. If you see a funnel cloud or if local authorities issue a tornado warning take shelter underground or in an interior room away from windows. If waters are rising quickly or local authorities issue a flash flood warning, seek higher ground.
- Stay away from downed power lines to avoid the risk of electric shock or electrocution.
After a Hurricane
- Do not return to your home until local authorities say it is safe. Even after the hurricane and after flood waters recede, roads might be weakened and could collapse. Buildings might be unstable, and drinking water might be contaminated.
- Use common sense and exercise caution.
Additional Hurricane Tips and Resources
- Monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet, especially Ready.gov.
- Listen to weather-alert radios to stay informed of hurricane watches and warnings.
- Keep in mind that after a hurricane, it could be hours, or even days, before emergency personnel are able to reach you.
- Hurricane evacuation information: VDEM’s Hurricane Preparedness Evacuation Guide
Know the Signs
- Strong, persistent rotation in the base of a cloud
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base (tornadoes sometimes have no visible funnel)
- Hail or heavy rain followed by dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes, especially in Virginia, are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can’t be seen.
- Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn’t fade in a few seconds like thunder does
- If it’s night, look for small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These lights are power lines being snapped by very strong wind, perhaps a tornado.
- Persistent lowering of the cloud base
Prepare for Tornados
- Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a tornado.
- 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 your area or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar. When a warning is issued, take cover immediately.
- Make a Plan
- Get a NOAA Weather Radio with warning alarm tone and battery backup to get information directly from the National Weather Service. This is the quickest way to learn that a tornado is heading your way. Many models are available.
- 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.
- If underground shelter is not available, go into a windowless interior room, closet or hallway on the lowest floor possible.
- A vehicle, trailer or mobile home does not provide good protection. Plan to go quickly to a building with a strong foundation, if 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.
- Get a kit of emergency supplies. Store it in your shelter location.
- Practice tornado drills at least once a year
During a Tornado
- When a tornado watch is issued, stay tuned to local radio, TV and NOAA weather radio for further information and possible warnings. Be prepared to take cover.
- When a tornado warning is issued, take cover in your safe location immediately or on the lowest level of the nearest substantial building. Protect your body from flying debris with a heavy blanket, pillows, sofa cushions or mattress.
- If you can’t get to your safe location or the lowest level of a substantial building:
- Open buildings (shopping mall, gym or civic center): Try to get into a restroom or interior hallway. If there is no time, get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. Protect your head by covering it with your arms.
- Cars and trucks: Get out of your vehicle and try to find shelter inside a sturdy building. A culvert or ditch can provide shelter if a substantial building is not nearby. Lie down flat and cover your head with your hands. Do not get under an overpass or bridge–you are safer in a low, flat location.
- Mobile homes: Do not stay in mobile homes. Leave immediately and seek shelter inside a nearby sturdy building, or lie down in a ditch away from your home, covering your head with your hands. Mobile homes are extremely unsafe during tornadoes.
- *If you are outdoors, try to find shelter immediately in the nearest substantial building. If no buildings are close, lie down flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
- Stay in your safe location until the danger has passed.
After a Tornado
- Stay out of damaged buildings and stay clear of downed power lines.
- Help injured or trapped people. Check on those who might need special assistance, such the elderly, children and people with disabilities.
Additional Tornado Resources:
Season: October 15 – November 30
General 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. Charlottesville-UVA-Albemarle uses the CodeRED Community Emergency Alert System, sign up here.
- 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.
Prepare for Wildfire Season
- Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a wildfire.
- Fire weather watch: dangerous fire weather conditions are possible over the next 12 to 72 hours
- 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.
- Make a plan.
- 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.
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.
Additional Wildfire Resources:
Prepare for Winter Storms
- Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify winter storms.
- Winter Storm Outlook: Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2 to 5 days.
- Winter Weather Advisory: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.
- Winter Storm Watch: Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.
- Winter Storm Warning: Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.
- Prepare your home
- Make sure your home is well insulated and that you have weather stripping around your doors and window sills to keep the warm air inside.
- If you have a wood burning fire place, consider storing wood to keep you warm if winter weather knocks out your heat.
- Home Heating Information:
- Lack of consistent cleaning of chimneys in fireplaces and wood stoves.
- Placing flammable items too close to space heaters and portable heaters.
- Flaws in design, installation, or use of equipment.
- Fueling errors involving liquid or gas-fueled heaters.
- Leaving portable heaters or space heaters unattended.Take certain safety precautions when dealing with home heating devices. Over one-third of home fire deaths in the United States occur during the winter. Most of these fires are due to human error, as they are most commonly caused by the following items:
- Keep these fire prevention tips in mind during the winter months:
- Portable and Other Space Heaters
Portable heaters and space heaters should be kept at least 36 inches away from anything that can burn, including furniture, clothing, people and pets. Space heaters should never be left operating when you leave the room or go to sleep. Children and pets should be supervised at all times when the heaters are in use. A high fire hazard is associated with drying clothing or placing combustibles above the heaters.
- Portable Kerosene Heaters
Only use the fuel specifically recommended by the manufacturer of the liquid-fueled space heater. Using a substitute fuel can cause the equipment to burn hotter than it was designed to handle and a serious fire could ensue. Always keep the fuel clearly labeled and stored away from the heater. The heater should be turned off and cooled completely before refueling.
Chimneys should be inspected by a professional prior to the start of every heating season and cleaned if necessary. Always use a sturdy fireplace screen for protection and remember to burn only wood. Paper and pine boughs can float out of your chimney and set your roof on fire. Do not use flammable liquids in your fireplace. Also, do not use your fireplace if you have placed decorative materials, such as Christmas stockings, in it.
- Wood Stoves
Follow the same rules for wood stoves as you would for space heaters. Burn only wood and place the wood stove on an approved store board to protect the floor from heat. Check with local fire and code officials before installing your stove.
- Make a Plan
- Thoroughly check and update your family’s emergency supply kit before winter approaches.
- Include adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
- If you have a car, fill the gas tank in case you have to leave.
- Plan to stay inside and make it on your own, at least for a period of time.
Winter Weather Driving Tips
Even experienced drivers can find their nerves and skills tested by winter road conditions. Here are some tips to help you drive safely as the weather turns cold:
- Before beginning your trip, know the current road conditions and weather forecast. For statewide highway information 24 hours a day, call 511 or go to 511virginia.org.
- Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter:
- Check your brakes and tires
- Check your battery and ignition system
- Check your antifreeze and thermostat
- Check your windshield wipers and de-icing washer fluid
- Check your headlights, tail and brake lights, blinkers and emergency flashers
- Check your exhaust system, heater and defroster
- Check your oil
- Properly lubricate door locks that may be prone to freezing
- Keep your car’s windows, mirrors, and lights clear of snow and ice.
- Always wear your seat belt.
- Leave a few minutes early.
- Start out slowly in the lowest gear recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.
- Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges.
- Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles and trucks that are plowing the road.
- Don’t pass a snowplow or spreader unless it is absolutely necessary. Treat these as you would emergency response vehicles.
- Keep an emergency winter driving kit in your car.
- Drive smart!
- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed of winter weather watches and warnings.
- Also monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet.
- Keep in mind that during a severe winter storm it could be hours, or even days, before emergency personnel are able to reach you.
- Learn about health safety during cold weather.
- National Weather Service: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/winter/index.shtml
OTHER SEVERE WEATHER
- Prepare for Flooding
- 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 instructions.
- Make a Plan
- Property insurance does not typically cover flood damage. Talk to your insurance provider about your policy and consider if you need additional coverage.
- Prepare your Home.
- Elevate the furnace, water heater, and electric panel in your home if you live in an area that has a high flood risk.
- Consider installing “check valves” to prevent flood water from backing up into the drains of your home.
- Unplug electrical appliances, moving them to higher levels, if possible. However, do not touch an electric appliance if you are wet or standing in water.
- If feasible, construct barriers to stop floodwater from entering the building and seal walls in basements with waterproofing compounds.
- If time allows, bring in outside furniture and move your valuables to higher places in your home.
- During a Flood
- Be prepared to evacuate.
- Do not return to your home until local authorities say it is safe. Even after flood waters recede, roads could be weakened and could collapse. Buildings might be unstable, and drinking water might be contaminated. Use common sense and exercise caution.
- Use common sense and available information. If water is rising quickly or you see a moving wall of mud or debris, immediately move to higher ground.
- Do not walk through moving water, if possible. Look for areas where the water is not moving. What might seem like a small amount of moving water can easily knock you down.
- Do not drive into flooded areas. If your vehicle becomes surrounded by rising water, get out quickly and move to higher ground, if possible.
- Flood water might cut off access to roads. Be prepared to stay where you are until floodwaters recede.
- Stay Informed
- Listen to weather-alert radios to stay informed of flood watches and warnings.
- Also monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet.
- Keep in mind that after a flood, it could be hours, or even days, before emergency personnel are able to reach you.
Lightning and Thunderstorms
- Prepare for a Thunderstorm and Lightning
- Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify a thunderstorm.
- Thunderstorm Watch: there is a possibility of a thunderstorm in your area.
- Thunderstorm Warning: a thunderstorm is occurring or will likely occur soon. Take shelter immediately.
- Remove dead or rotting trees and branches that could fall and cause injury or damage during a severe thunderstorm.
- Use the 30/30 lightning safety rule. If you see lightning and you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, go indoors. Then stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder.
- Make a Plan
- Secure outdoor objects that could blow away or cause damage. Shutter windows and secure outside doors. If shutters are not available, close window blinds, shades, or curtains.
- Do not use electrical items such as computers or television sets as power surges from lightning can cause serious damage.
- A corded telephone should only be used in an emergency, but cordless phones and cell phones are safe to use.
- Be alert:
- Watch for darkening skies, lightning, increasing winds.
- Avoid showering or bathing during a thunderstorm. Plumbing and bathroom fixtures can conduct electricity.
- Stay inside:
- Go quickly inside a sturdy, enclosed building. If no building is close, get in the car and avoid touching metal surfaces.
- If no shelter or car is available, go to the lowest area nearby and make yourself the smallest target possible. Do not lie flat on the ground.
- If on open water, get to land and shelter immediately.
- Any tall, isolated trees in an open area.
- Hilltops, open fields, the beach, a boat on the water, isolated sheds or other small structures in open areas.
- Anything metal—tractors, farm equipment, motorcycles, golf carts, golf clubs, bleachers, fences and bicycles.
- Stay Informed
- Listen to weather-alert radios to stay informed of thunderstorm watches and warnings.
- Also monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet.
- Keep in mind that after a thunderstorm, it could be hours, or even days, before emergency personnel are able to reach you.