Seattle, Wash. -- If 1998's El Nino and 1999's La Nina drew wary eyes to weather warnings, this year's "Pineapple Express" offers little respite for Pacific Northwest commuters, particularly those in coastal communities. According to FEMA Deputy Regional Director Tammy Doherty, a few simple motorist safety tips could make the difference between inconvenience and real disaster.
"We need to be prepared to deal with a future flood, earthquake or winter storm if it strikes when we are at work, at home with our children, if our children are away at school, or if we're on the road in our car," said Doherty. "Americans can be particularly vulnerable if disaster strikes while they are driving--Search and Rescue teams find too many victims who might have survived if only they had known whether or not to leave their cars."
Disaster driving is one part preparedness, one part common sense, and one part learning from experience-our own and other's. For example:
- Natural disasters can play havoc with power lines and telephone poles. Be aware of your changed environment, and STAY AWAY from downed power poles.
- Don't attempt to drive through water on a road. Floodwaters can erode roadways and conceal missing sections of roads or bridges. Wade through floodwaters only if the water is not flowing rapidly and is no higher than knee-level. If the car stalls in floodwater, get out and move to higher ground (floodwaters may still be rising and the car could be swept away).
- If driving when an earthquake strikes, stop the car. Remain in the car until the shaking has stopped. The car's suspension system may make the car shake violently during the quake, but it's still a safe place to be. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, overpasses and utility wires. When the quaking has stopped, proceed cautiously, avoiding bridges and other elevated structures that might have been damaged.
- If possible, avoid driving in severe winter storms, but if you are caught in a storm or blizzard and your car becomes immobilized, stay in the vehicle and await rescue. Do not attempt to walk from the car unless you can see a definite safe haven at a reasonable distance. Turn on the auto engine for brief periods to provide heat, but always leave a down-wind window open slightly to avoid deadly carbon monoxide poisoning (make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow). Leave the dome light on at night to signal rescuers, and exercise occasionally by clapping hands or moving around.
Auto emergency kits should contain as a minimum: blankets and warm clothing, booster cables and tools, bottled water, canned fruits and nuts, first aid kit, flashlight and batteries, traction mats or chains, a shovel, and emergency prescription medication.
Libraries, local emergency management offices and local chapters of the American Red Cross offer a wealth of pamphlets, checklists and brochures on emergency preparedness and mitigation techniques. "Electronic" preparedness and mitigation tips are available on FEMA's 24-hour FAX-on-Demand service at (202) 646-FEMA, and on-line at http://www.FEMA.gov.