Surviving Winter Storms
Winter storms are one of the most challenging forms of emergencies as they may include blizzards, communications system failures, electrical storms, hail, high winds, ice, power outages, road closures, sleet, snow, and transportation accidents that pose risks to buildings, collections, and people. On average the United States has roughly four catastrophic winter storms annually with storms occurring most commonly in the northeastern United States. Over the last century or so as many as nine major winter storms have occurred during a single bad year. Recent studies indicate that total winter storm losses during the last fifty years or so has totaled over $35.2 billion with an average death rate of 35 annually due to winter storms.
Building Risks: Storms may cause fires, floods, mold, and structural collapse that threaten loss of life and damage to buildings and collections as well as:
- environmental systems shutdowns due to power outages with resulting loss of temperature and humidity controls,
- flooding of interior building areas with or without resulting ceiling collapses,
- gutter clogging with ice damns, leading to leaks,
- hazardous material accidents,
- power outages and communications infrastructure failures
- roof damage or collapse due to ice, snow, or fallen trees,
- stranded building managers unable to get to the building to assess and mitigate damage,
- structural collapse, and
- transportation accidents or closed roads that trap people in out of your building,
Collections Risks: In addition to the building risks, a storm may cause:
- collections stress due to loss of environmental controls, such as humidity and temperature, which is particularly risky for leather, paper, parchment, photographs, vellum, and related items,
- contamination of collections with sewage water, asbestos, or other biological or chemical contaminants, which is particularly dangerous for hygroscopic items such as leather, paper, parchment, photographs, vellum, and related items,
- kinetic damage (movement, impact, or abrasion) due to high winds, structural movement, and structural damage, which is particularly dangerous for items under glass, bone and ivory, brittle metal items, ceramics and glass (including mirrors), furniture and wood, items under tension (e.g., drums), paper items, and photographs.
- mold development due to leaks, which is dangerous for all items, but somewhat more so for more porous and hygroscopic items that are harder to clean such as leather, paper, parchment, photographs, vellum, and wood, and
- flooding or wetting of collections,
Classic storm damage includes:
- broken bone, ceramic, glass plate , ivory, metal, and mirror items
- contamination of paper or book collections with asbestos, dirt, contaminated water, or mold
- cracked, smashed, or otherwise damaged furniture, glass plate images,
- missing objects that have been carried away by the wind,
- moldy items as a result of broken windows, damaged roofs, or other structural breaches, and
- soaked or water damaged artwork, books, computer infrastructure, equipment, furniture, and paper documents.
Storm damage prevention:There are many steps you can take to improve your repository’s chances of getting through a winter storm without problems. Some of these tools and techniques are described below.
Storm Information:Know whether you are located in an area vulnerable to major Winter storms. Winter storms occur six times more frequently in the American east than in the west. The northeastern U.S. is at highest risk. Use the NOAA Website at http://iwin.nws.noaa.gov/iwin/nationalwarnings.html to get accurate and timely information on upcoming storms and to track storms as they develop to plan for evacuation and storm preparations. Also familiarize yourself with emergency broadcast stations on television and radio (particularly the National Weather Service radio station at 162.475 MHz-FM), with the Websites listed above, and with alarm sirens. Obtain an emergency radio for your facility that can operate on batteries or via hand cranking. Note: Avoid using hand cranked equipment near computers and storage devices.
Storm Planning: Develop an emergency plan for your repository that includes storms. Practice the policy at intervals and update it regularly. Work with your local emergency officials to ensure that all parties have walked through the space know what is expected of them during an emergency. Priorities for salvage and security must be understood by local authorities, emergency response team members, and volunteers.
Long term Storm Preparations: Place collections storage, work, exhibit, and research rooms in buildings with good structural seals on the roof, windows, and basements. Avoid using attics, or basements for collections storage. Work with maintenance staff to ensure that the collections storage structure roof, HVAC, and similar large structural elements are bolted with heavy-duty fasteners. Ensure that gutters and related drainage and water removal systems are kept clear and clean, as well as being well fastened to the building. Install storm shutters on your windows. Cover windows with storm shutters.
Place pressure-sensitive UV filtering film over glass to help minimize glass shard projectiles and window breakage. Wrap any areas that have leaked before thoroughly in plastic, particularly over collections storage spaces. Have emergency supplies ready to go for cleaning up water on floors.
Request, install and use emergency power back-up systems for environmental controls whenever possible. Avoid placing any materials near or in the building that might function as projectiles in a high wind, including gravel, tiles, roof slates, benches, statuary, trash cans, and outdoor displays. Avoid planting any large bushes or trees near your building. Cut back all dead branches on trees near your building. Attach guy wires to large trees near the building to prevent them from damaging the building during high winds.
Ensure that evacuation vehicles are ready to go with full gas tanks. Ensure that power sources and batteries for emergency response equipment are new and in adequate supply. Ensure that all necessary shelter in place materials such as blankets, jugs for water, power bars, etc are in place, as well as emergency response supplies and the emergency plan. Alert all collections emergency response team members that they may be contacted if the storm occurs, leading to an emergency. Ensure that you know how to turn off electricity and gas mains if necessary.
During the Storm Watch:A severe thunderstorm watch is issued when damaging winds of 58 miles or more or hail of 3/4 of an inch or more is expected. A winter storm watch is issued when the National Weather Service identifies classic danger signs, such as approaching storm clouds or a severe thunderstorm. If you are in the repository when the storm watch is announced, turn on an emergency broadcast (EBS) station on radio or television or listen to National Weather Service radio at 162.475 MHz-FM for information. Listen for emergency alarm signals from local townships.
During the Storm Warning:A National Weather Service storm warning indicates that a storm is imminent (within the next 24 hours). Move collection items in priority order away from glass, doors, and windows and out of basements and attics to a safe space designated in the Emergency Plan. Cover collections with tarps and polyester sheeting and lash down to the heaviest furniture and to wall braces if possible. Clear away all loose items to padded storage (use polyethylene foam or bubble wrap) in cabinets or cupboards that can be secured. Cover non-movable items, such as architectural fragments and sculptures, with plastic sheeting.
Shut-off all unnecessary electrical appliances and utilities. Gather necessary materials for a power outage such as flashlights. Close storm shutters, tape unprotected windows, and lock up. Ensure all vehicle gas tanks are full for emergency evacuation as necessary after the storm. Ensure that you know the best evacuation route for a winter storm.
Immediately before the Storm: When a severe winter storm is about to occur, but you can not evacuate, check all battery-powered equipment and power back-up sources and fire fighting equipment, emergency exit lights, emergency response equipment, and back-up security systems. Capture clean water in clean jugs in case you are stranded or must do emergency clean up. Locate emergency response equipment. Find blankets and emergency heating equipment, such as space heaters. Use such equipment carefully to avoid the risk of fire.
Secure your storm shutters after first padding them with a sheet of polyethylene foam or bubble wrap to prevent shock damage. Tie down loose items outside or move them indoors. Disconnect all non-essential electrical equipment.
Storm Survival:If you are evacuating, confirm that your planned route is still open and that bridges and roads are not washed out, unplowed, or impassable. Ensure that you have enough gas before you depart. Ensure that hail is not large enough to damage windscreens. Avoid evacuating during major hail storms, as roads may rapidly become impassable and windshields may break. Take a cell phone with you. Be ready to describe where you are at all times. If stranded in a car, stay with the car unless you can clearly see nearby shelter with heating. Use gas sparingly. Avoid allowing the car tail pipe to become blocked to avoid gas build-ups in the car that can lead to asphyxiation.
In case of power outages: Don’t use elevators, matches, candles, or lighters instead light with crank or battery operated flashlights or lanterns. Only use hand-cranked tools away from computers and digital media storage areas.
In case of high winds: During high winds, also stay away from upper floors, windows, glass doors, overhead lighting, and areas with unsecured furniture including filing cabinets, storage equipment, shelving, and small-unsecured objects. For example, don’t go into wood or metal shops or into offices with lots of unsecured office supplies. Avoid all rooms or spaces with wide span roofssuch as barns, gymnasia, or garages, as well as attics or top floor areas. Either get into a windowless room toward the center of the lower floors or stay in the center of a small windowless room, as the corners tend to accumulate
If you lose your building roof or windows: Get into a small windowless room. Stay away from room corners. Get under a sturdy piece of furniture if possible, such as a heavy desk and use your arms to protect your head and neck.
If the storm is a winter thunderstorm,use only battery operated equipment and avoid all telephones, televisions, bathtubs, outlets, water faucets, sinks, metal structural elements, and outlets. If you notice your hair is standing on end (which indicates lightening is about to strike), get as low as possible. To estimate your distance in miles from a thunderstorm, count the number of seconds between the flash of lightning and the next clap of thunder, and then divide by five.
If you hear hissing or smell gas,open a window and evacuate the building, going immediately to a heated structure at a safe distance nearby. If possible, turn off the gas main valve as you leave. If you see sparks or smell smoke ensure that the power is turned off at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you must step through water to get to the circuit breaker, don’t attempt to do so. Take the staff and visitor log with you if possible. Try to determine if all staff and visitors have safely evacuated. Notify authorities of any missing or trapped individuals and their probable location. Wait until the maintenance staff uses a flashlight to check for broken utility lines before turning utilities back on.
If outside during a storm, don’t try to outdrive a storm. Try to get into a building. If no building is available, stay in the car for an electrical storm or winter storm, but get out and into a ditch for a hurricane or tornado. If in a ditch, lie down facing away from the storm.
Recovery after a Storm: Your most appropriate actions depend upon the type of storm and damage experienced. All post emergency steps should be spelled out in the repositories emergency plan and continuity of operations plan. Generally it is essential to first report the incident and immediate needs, such as ambulances, to appropriate authorities including fire chiefs, police, and your disaster team. Trained onsite staff may be able to provide emergency medical assistance until ambulances arrive.
The next step is for fire and safety authorities including structural engineers to assess whether the building is safe for entry and salvage work. Once the building is judged safe to enter, trained emergency responders with appropriate personal protective equipment are generally the first to enter the space. These experts undertake hazards assessment, collections risks, and may begin salvage actions for high risk collections. Untrained staff should not enter the building until hazards have been abated.