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How to BE SAFE in a Polar Vortex

From the Midwest to the East coast, Americans of all ages are facing dangerously low temperatures. As a result, thousands of flights have been canceled, schools are closed and motorists are stranded. According to CNN, the bitter cold from a “polar vortex,” is not just another winter storm: “It’s the coldest in 20 years in many areas, breaking records in places like Chicago, where it was minus 16 overnight and minus 14 at noon.”

“Subfreezing temperatures can be dangerous and even life-threatening for people who don’t take the proper precautions,” said Andrew Velasquez III, FEMA Regional Administrator. “It is important for everyone to monitor their local weather reports and take steps now to stay safe during times of extreme cold temperatures.”

The arctic blast—expected to be the coldest in decades—is bringing below-zero temperatures to more than half of the continental U.S. National Weather Service meteorologist Butch Dye describes the situation, “It’s just a dangerous cold.”

Authorities have blamed the deep freeze for 13 deaths so far, nearly all of them from traffic accidents. What’s more, a man in Wisconsin died of hypothermia, and an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s disease who wandered away from her home in New York state was found dead in the snow in a wooded area about 100 yards away.

Minneapolis, in a rare move, has issued a “Particularly Dangerous Situation” warning, citing the “historic and life-threatening cold.” Such admonitions are typically reserved for tornadoes. Also, the National Weather Service adopted the Twitter hashtag “#Chiberia” for Chicago. Also of concern are the tens of thousands of Midwesterners who are without electricity.

Do you know how to be safe when faced with the hazards of cold temperatures? When it is exceedingly cold, take these precautions:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Limit your exposure to the cold.
  • Check smoke alarms.
  • Dress in layers and keep dry.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who are at risk and may need additional assistance.
  • Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of cold-related health issues such as frostbite and hypothermia, and seek medical attention if health conditions are severe.
  • Bring pets indoors or make sure they have a warm shelter area and bowls filled with water instead of ice. If cats live in your area, bang on the hood of your car before starting your engine.
  • Prepare an emergency kit for your car, which includes an ice scraper, blanket and flashlight.
  • Just in case you have to vacate, keep the fuel tank in your vehicle above half full.
  • Check your car battery. “Batteries that are more than three years old or that are on the verge of going dead often can’t be jump-started once they have been exposed to temperatures below zero for an extended period.”
  • If you plan to use a space heater or fireplace, keep clothes, drapes and other flammables away from all heating sources.
  • Never use space heaters while you sleep, when you are out of your home, or where children may be without adult supervision.
  • Don’t burn paper or trash in a fireplace or wood burning stove.
  • Protect outside faucets. One solution is a durable faucet cover, which is designed to help protect faucets from freezing during below freezing temperatures. These are readily available at home warehouse stores.
  • If you must go outside, watch for signs of hypothermia, including uncontrollable shivering, weak pulse, disorientation, incoherence and drowsiness, and frostbite, including gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness and waxy feeling skin.
  • If you are going away for an extended period of time, be sure to maintain adequate heat inside your home at no lower than 55 degrees.
  • Don’t overexert yourself. When shoveling snow or even walking in deep snow, avoid straining too much or the exertion could lead to a heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends not eating a large meal before shoveling, take frequent breaks, and use a smaller shovel or a snow blower.
  • Familiarize yourself with signs of hypothermia. If you suspect you or someone has symptoms, immediately seek medical attention. The best protection against hypothermia is to avoid exposure.

For additional detailed, free resources about winter weather protection, see the CDC, FEMA and and NOAA. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. The Allied Universal Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training-related costs by 90% and saves you over 50% compared to conventional training! More importantly, IT SAVES LIVES.

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