LAWRENCEVILLE -- As a tropical depression from the south gives way to another line of severe weather coming from the west, Gwinnett firefighters this week offered safety tips to protect yourself and property.
Gwinnett Fire Capt. Tommy Rutledge said every family should have a basic emergency action plan, disaster supply kit and emergency communications plan. In a fire, getting out fast is important, but in a tornado, Rutledge said, taking cover in a safe interior area is important.
"Knowing what to do and where to go could save your life," Rutledge said. "Show areas of fast escape from the home or areas to shelter inside that are safe depending on the type of emergency."
Rutledge also said to plan the best actions to assist the elderly and those with disabilities, and to know the safe and proper way to shut off gas, power and water to a home.
Other items to add to a disaster preparedness list are to identify a friend or relative who lives out of the area to contact if family members are separated, and to stock your home or shelter with flashlights, drinking water, a battery-powered radio, extra blankets and a first-aid kit.
During a thunderstorm, Rutledge said to get or stay inside a substantial structure, such as a house or enclosed building until the storm or lightning has passed. Don't shower or bathe during a lightning storm, and avoid being in a swimming pool or hot tub, he said.
"Lightning can either strike the highest point of the house, such as the roof and attic, or may strike nearby and travel into the home," Rutledge said.
If a lightning strike is suspected, Rutledge said to first check the attic, then the basement, and if there's no sign of smoke or fire, feel the walls in each room for heat or an odor of smoke.
"If your home is safe, look outside to check the neighboring houses," Rutledge said. "Be prepared to call 911 if you see smoke or flames."
If outside during a thunderstorm, Rutledge said to take shelter under a thick growth of small trees, and avoid being under individual trees. If you're in an open area, move to a low spot such as a ravine or valley, but stay alert to flash flooding conditions.
If a storm is in the area, feeling your hair stand on end means lightning is about to strike nearby, so make yourself into a small target, Rutledge said.
"Squat down on the balls of your feet, (but) do not lie flat on the ground," he said. "Place your hands over your ears and tuck your head between your knees."
How do you find out a storm's location?
Rutledge said to count the seconds between the lightning flash and the next rumble of thunder. Divide that number by five, and the answer is the number of miles away the storm is from where you are.
To prepare for a tornado, practice getting in a shelter, and if you live in a mobile home, find a sturdy building nearby and know the location of designated shelters, such as schools, churches and shopping centers, he said.
In your home, an interior room or hallway on the ground floor away from windows is best, while basements or storm cellars would be the safest, Rutledge said.
During a tornado, watch the sky for funnel-shaped clouds, or dark, greenish skies, large hail and a loud roar similar to the sound of a freight train.
"If you are caught outdoors, lie flat in a ditch and cover your head," Rutledge said. "Do not get under a bridge or overpass. Never attempt to outrun a tornado."
After a tornado, be careful entering a tornado-damaged structure, he said, and make sure that the walls and roof are in place and the foundation is sound.