Are you ready for disaster?

If Hurricane Irene told us anything, it’s that preparation for emergencies can be a significant, and potentially life-saving, matter.

Before you go buying protection for dust storms or dig an underground bunker for tornadoes, it’s important to know what types of emergencies are most frequent to Catawba County.

The county’s emergency management coordinator said general preparation is always good, but there are certain incidents in specific for which area residents need to be ready.

“The most common natural or weather-related events in Catawba County are winter storms, thunderstorms and tornadoes and flooding,” said Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County’s emergency management coordinator.

Being located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, snow and ice during winter months can cause emergencies that require area residents to be prepared, Yaussy said.  Historically in Catawba County, winter storms have resulted in flooding, closed highways, blocked roads and downed power lines. Hypothermia is sometimes an issue with extremely cold temperatures, but is less common, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA).

During the 2010-11 winter, multiple storms brought more than 1 foot of total snow accumulation to Catawba County, causing area schools to be cancelled for several days.

“We had a lot of snow, but fortunately, the power was off as much as it has been in years past,” said Terri Byers, Hickory Fire Department fire education coordinator. “Fortunately, a lot of people prepared for that, which is good.”

For winter storms, Byers said it is best to make sure limbs are not covering power lines and have the basic essentials ready.

“Candles are very nice, but we prefer battery operated items that are a lot safer,” Byers said. “Stay at home, and if you can’t go anywhere, you don’t need to be out in the road.”

Like snow and ice storms, thunderstorms and high winds are also frequent in the area. In the past year, strong storms have knocked out power to homes throughout Catawba County and a tornado injured 11 Claremont citizens in October.

A constant result of high winds and thunderstorms is power outages – an area where Yaussy said county residents can improve their preparations.

“I think people have become so dependent on (electricity) that they forget you can survive without it,” Yaussy said. “There are ways around it, and you need to think through your living situation before the emergency takes place. In the moment, it’s very hard to do something about it. We are certainly happy to talk to people about what to do in that situation, but it would be so much better if people would think through it before hand.”  

Yaussy said flooding, which can result from winter and summer storms, is also an issue that can affect certain areas of the county.

Yaussy said the flooding is local in nature. Because Catawba County is higher in elevation, Yaussy said the area is not at risk for a large flood, but said there are three or four places that are more susceptible to flooding.

Carpenters Cove at Lookout Shoals is more susceptible to flooding based on how much lake levels change and how much rain the county gets, Yaussy said. Other low-lying areas like Rocky Ford Road and E. Maiden Road are also more susceptible to flooding.

Earthquakes, sinkholes and landslides

In addition to winter storms, thunderstorms and flooding, Yaussy said Catawba County is “past due” for other natural disasters that require preparations.

“The geologic experts in the state say fault that runs in the mountains and through the county is 20 to 30 years past due for causing an earthquake,” Yaussy said, adding that the tremors last week brought more awareness to a real possibility of an earthquake in the future.

Sinkholes have also opened in areas like Hickory in the past year, with the most recent one opening about two months ago in front of Judge’s BBQ on U.S. 70. The sinkhole closed traffic on U.S. 70 for hours and took crews more than two days to fix.

Natural disasters like sinkholes and landslides have been occurring recently, Yaussy said, a problem that is sometimes easier to foresee, but other times not.
(Un)natural disasters

Hazardous materials or chemical spills are disasters that Yaussy said she is always concerned about.  
Catawba County has a variety and influx of transportation in the area, and chemical or hazardous material spills are always a looming possibility.

“We have major transportation routes throughout the county,” Yaussy said. “If we had a rail car or a tanker roll over, we can have a major incident.”

McGuire Nuclear Plant in nearby Huntersville is a man-made facility that could pose long-term problems for the county if an infrastructural malfunction occurs, Yaussy said. She added that infrastructure problems in general can pose issues for county residents in the future.   

“If we lost the power grid in North Carolina or on East Coast due to terrorist attacks or another reason, that could affect people in the long term,” Yaussy said. “We have a lot of people in homes for medical reasons that rely on electricity.”

Protect your pets, too

Before an emergency, Yaussy said it’s also important to prepare for pets.

In Catawba County, the same emergency situations most pressing to area citizens also impact pets. 

A preparation technique often overlooked by citizens is having your pets’ medical records on hand during an emergency.

“You need to have copies of your pet’s vaccination and health records,” Yaussy said. “If you need to shelter your pet, a lot of shelters will not shelter that pet unless you have that documentation.”

Along with medical records, Yaussy said pet owners need to take appropriate collars, leashes and crates that secure animals.

“Even the friendliest or calmest pet in the world can change under different condition,” she said. 

And, of course, Yaussy recommends taking food and bowls for water if the need to evacuate your home arises.