Severe Weather Awareness Week

The National Weather Service has announced that Severe Weather Awareness Week for 2016 is the week of March 21-25. But according to Kimberly Elder, coordinator of Emergency Management for Marshall County, preparedness for such a disaster such as severe weather needs to be a year-round process.

“Since disasters and emergencies can happen at any time and often without warning, one needs to know what to do, where to go and how to contact members of you family,” she said. “Now is the time to prepare – especially if there are children or elderly adults in the family or persons with disabilities.”

Elder suggested that while planning, persons should sit down as a family and talk about their disaster plan, then write it down and make sure everyone in the family has a copy. It should be noted that severe weather can often occur in the late afternoon when children may be home alone before parents get home from work. “Therefore, it is very important to make sure the children know that going to the shelter area is something they can and should do on their own,” she added.

Marshall County’s Emergency Management department offers several ways that residents can begin preparing for the severe weather season. The first is to make sure they are getting the warnings and then secondly to have a safe place to get into when warnings are sounded.

“Everyone should buy a simple NOAA Weather Radio which can be programed for Marshall County or for the area surrounding Marshall County. It is so important that residents get the warnings immediately to be able to get to their area of safety,” Elder said.

Sirens are set off for tornado warnings only in Marshall County, but policies vary by county in which warning sirens are used for. The sirens in Marshalltown, State Center and Gilman are set off by the communications center in Marshalltown. Other towns in the county use fire sirens set off by the local departments. Elder quickly pointed out that these sirens are only used to warn people who are outdoors of the impending danger – not everyone inside homes, businesses or factories can always hear them – and that is why weather radios are encouraged.

She also reminds residents that there is no all clear blasts of the sirens. “If the siren goes off more than once in any given storm it is because a new warning has been issued and danger is still present.”

Another way of receiving the warnings is through the Alert Iowa System. Residents can sign up for these emergency alerts on their cell phone, landline, text messaging, email, fax, TDD/TTY and social media by using the link

Alerts are usually given as a watch when conditions are right for severe weather to occur, followed by the actual warning when the severe weather is eminent.

“It is important at a person or family get as many walls between them and the outside if a tornado is approaching. This should be in a basement or on the lowest floor if no basement is available,” Elder said. “Get under something like a table or solid stairway to protect your head from flying debris and stay away from windows.”

She added that the old myth of getting in a southwest corner of the basement and opening windows in your home a crack no longer apply.

And while pets are part of the family, Elder said that unless they come to the shelter with you when you go, “don’t worry about the pet – as animals have instinctive ways of protecting themselves. Get you and your family to the shelter as quick as possible.”

Just like the winter survival kit that is recommended for Iowans to have in case of blizzards etc., Elder said to freshen up that kit and bring it to your shelter area now. Things that should be included are water (one gallon per person for up to three days), flashlight and new batteries, portable radio and a weather radio, small first aid kit, snack items and food for at least three days, paper towels, trash bags, toilet paper and washcloths. Other items to consider are blankets or tarps, a whistle, and dust masks.

“Make sure you wear, take or have sturdy shoes already in the shelter area to provide protection from broken glass. Also if you have children in the family bike helmets provide extra protection, and teddy bears (stuffed animals) coloring books and crayons can help keep the children more calm,” Elder said.

Elder said she is available to do programs for school groups, civic groups and to provide churches, businesses and schools assistance to help plan their shelter areas. She can be contacted at 641-754-6385 or by email at kelder

A severe weather storm spotter training class will be held on April 7 at 6 p.m. in DeJardin Hall of the Iowa Valley Continuing Education building. Call the college at 752-4645 to register for the free class. Sign in will begin at 5:30 p.m. on the evening of the class, instructed by members of the National Weather Service Des Moines office in Johnston. The evening is open to anyone of any age who is interested in becoming a trained weather spotter.

“Don’t wait for someone else to do things for you – now is the time to make sure that you and your family are prepared,” Elder said.