Extreme temperatures are extremely difficult for special needs populations, for example the elderly and persons who cannot otherwise take care of themselves. Both heat and cold are a recurring threat in Tennessee based upon the time of the year. Extreme cold becomes a serious threat when power goes out and extreme heat becomes deadly when the power goes out. There are periods of temperatures in Tennessee above 100 degrees and as low as 20 degrees below zero in the winter. These broad swings of temperature threaten the lives of some citizens.
Heat Wave of 1988 - Summer of 1988
A year-long drought that had ravaged the agricultural economy was further exacerbated by the heat wave of 1988. Damage to the agricultural economy surpassed $61 billion as total rainfall along the Great Plains region from April through June was even lower than during the Dust Bowl years. Drought conditions seeded wildfires that raged across Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore that summer. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people succumbed to health complications stemming from the sweltering heat. Tennessee got its share.
Heat Wave of 1980 - Summer of 1980
The heat wave of 1980 proved to be one of the nation's most catastrophic prolonged weather events. A high-pressure ridge pushed temperatures across the central and southern United States above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Agricultural damage tallied an estimated $48 billion due to a massive drought, and 10,000 people died from heat and heat stress-related ailments.
Dust Bowl - Early 1930's
Prior to the early 1930's, the Great Plains was a farmer's paradise. Rising demands for wheat spurred settlers to plow much of the southern plains' grassy soil to meet this need. The land was eventually exposed to erosion, since grass and tree roots that had held the moist soil in place during dry times were replaced by cash crops. A decade-long drought transformed the loose topsoil into dust, which windstorms swept up and blew eastward, darkening skies as far away as the Atlantic Coast. With most of the area's crops decimated, a third of the farmers turned to government aid, while around half a million Americans were left homeless.
Tennessee weather is a challenge year-round, but it is especially troubling in the winter since any wet areas freeze and become a hazard to transportation. The freezing conditions may take place suddenly without much warning and not be visible to drivers, called "black ice." This may surprise drivers from drier climates who do not often experience ice under snow which nearly always accompanies cold weather in Tennessee. Even Tennessee drivers are surprised by the sudden changes. Traffic snarls are normal when snows arrive in the state's communities. This state is usually very wet and rain precedes any change in temperature. When storms arrive and the rain freezes, the result is not only a hazard to the transportation network, the power grid is often affected too. For hospitals, nursing homes, shut-ins, schools and other special needs groups, the loss of power, heat and medical equipment operation may be life-threatening. In cold weather the icing conditions could last for weeks which interferes with the return of power.
To prepare for cold extremes takes some careful thought since the typical survival kit will not provide everything that is required. Stocking up on water and food for an extended period takes advance planning. Keeping a portable generator and becoming familiar with how to hook it up and safely operate it are essential steps to survival. Making sure you have plenty of blankets and quilts or heating and cooking oil are considerations. Often, buying extra wood may be an option for homes with fireplaces. Do not overlook stocks of prescriptions and pet foods
An urban fire is any instance of uncontrolled burning which results in major structural damage to residential, commercial, industrial, institutional or other properties in developed areas. Often, urban fires result from other catastrophes and become a part of the cascading emergencies created by the larger or initial emergency. On the same day as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, October 8th, a fire in Peshtigo, Wisconsin burned out of control and spread over the entire town. The area became a conflagration when a windstorm fueled by the spread of several prairie fires fanned the blaze out over a million acres of forest. This fire leaped across the Peshtigo River and trapped both sides of the town of Peshtigo in terrific flames. When the inferno burned out, it had left roughly 1,200 dead. Although the Great San Francisco earthquake is best known for its 7.7 to 7.9 magnitude trembler, the real culprit on April 18, 1906 was an urban fire that caused the wooden city to burn for four days. The earthquake broke natural gas mains and water mains, not only causing blazes everywhere, but preventing the fire department from fighting the fires. A firestorm took out more than 500 city blocks, and 3,000 lives were lost. Of those who survived, some 225,000 people were without a home.
Forest fire is still a common occurrence in Tennessee, mostly in the heavily forested East Tennessee area. Forest fire threats are typically combined with other hazards, such as droughts or thunderstorms. Each year a fire may involve areas that were once undeveloped timberland, but that are becoming a part of urban sprawl, the suburbs of expanding cities. Making the threat greater, many homes are built in the forests which are often more distant from fire services and utilities.
Forest fires do not commonly represent a major threat to most of Tennessee. There are occasions, however, where wildfires do get out of control, and you will find links to information about these fires from the state Division of Forestry. Additionally, Tennessee is home to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest, both of which are highly forested and are subject to significant fires. The greatest threat occurs when several fires appear causing the absorption of response forces to meet new fire problems.
The Forestry Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is the first line of defense in fighting forest fires and usually eliminates the threats with little additional assistance.
Forestry maintains the Burn Safe TN website to provide information on wildfire prevention and current fire conditions in the state.
Wildfires are typically limited to fields and meadows in Tennessee and require a rapid response to prevent them from developing into a forest fire. The last major outbreak of wildfire in Tennessee was in 1952 when a serious drought set up conditions for fires which exceeded the resources to fight so many fires at the same time. Thousands of acres of Tennessee timber land and meadows were burning at the same time, a stretch of fires from Memphis to Strawberry Plains. All of these fires were finally subdued only as rain began to fall because the number of resources to fight some many fires had long been depleted.
Losses totaled in the millions due to lost crops, timber and businesses.
A cooperative network of emergency management between the states, known as the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), now helps assure rapid resources can be obtained to address wildfires in the future.
Floods are prevalent in Tennessee and still cause declarations of disaster, although mitigation efforts over the years have reduced much of the serious flooding and flash flooding that have plagued Tennesseans before Tennessee Valley Authority dams. Floods, however, are still the number one weather-related killer. A flood can happen anywhere, in the flatlands of West Tennessee, in the rolling meadows of Middle Tennessee or along the mountainous terrain of East Tennessee.
A flood is a flow or overflow of water from a river or similar body of water, occurring over a period of time and rising above the normal levels for water. Flooding may be caused by thunderstorms and by fronts that may fill creeks or river basins too quickly. Even Tennessee may experience torrential rains from decaying hurricanes or other tropical systems. The Mississippi River Flood of 1993 was caused by repeated heavy rain from thunderstorms over a period of weeks.
Flash floods are quickly-rising floods, usually occurring as the result of very heavy rain over a short period of time, and typically surge through dry creek beds or ditches unexpectedly. Flash floods can be caused by ice jams on rivers in conjunction with a winter or spring thaw or a dam or levee break. The constant influx of water finally causes a treacherous overflow which can sweep away vehicles, uproot trees, rip away propane tanks, level buildings, roll boulders into roadways, and drag bridges off their piers. Most surprising is the speed with which the water rises.
A frightening example of a flash flood that combined with other disasters to kill a large number of people was the Johnstown Flood of Pennsylvania on May 31, 1889. Johnstown was a steel manufacturing community that did not recognize the danger they were in from a dam 14 miles upstream. The South Fork Dam, stressed beyond its ability, failed during several days of torrential downpour. The dam released 20 million tons of water and debris that rose at times to 60 feet high and rushed downhill at 40 mph sweeping nearly all homes, factories, equipment, bridges and other paraphernalia in its path. The debris piled against a stone bridge in Johnstown that became oil soaked and which then caught fire. Eighty survivors who had avoided drowning and who were on the debris or who were floating down the river into the debris were burned to death. The flood leveled 1,600 homes, and the flood and fire killed 2,209 people. SOURCE: http://www.johnstownpa.com/History/hist19.html
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends several safety tips to the victims of floods. This safety alert illustrates some dangerous practices which consumers may be tempted to engage in during efforts to rebuild or while staying in temporary housing, tents, or partially damaged homes. This information is provided in an effort to prevent injuries and deaths from consumer products as flood survivors make new beginnings.
Do not use electrical appliances that have been wet. Water can damage the motors in electrical appliances, such as furnaces, freezers, refrigerators, washing machines, and dryers.
If electrical appliances have been under water, have them dried out and reconditioned by a qualified service repairman. Do not turn on damaged electrical appliances because the electrical parts can become grounded and pose an electric shock hazard or overheat and cause a fire. Before flipping a switch or plugging in an appliance, have an electrician check the house wiring and appliance to make sure it is safe to use.
Electricity and water don't mix. Use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to help prevent electrocutions and electrical shock injuries. Portable GFCIs require no tools to install and are available at prices ranging from $12 to $30.
When using a "wet-dry vacuum cleaner," be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions to avoid electric shock. Do not allow the power cord connections to become wet. Do not remove or bypass the ground pin on the three-prong plug. Use a GFCI to prevent electrocution. NEVER allow the connection between the machine's power cord and the extension cord to lie in water. To prevent a gas explosion and fire, have gas appliances (natural gas and LP gas) inspected and cleaned after flooding.
If gas appliances have been under water, have them inspected and cleaned and their gas controls replaced. The gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber should do this work. Water can damage gas controls so that safety features are blocked, even if the gas controls appear to operate properly. If you suspect a gas leak, don't light a match, use any electrical appliance, turn lights on or off, or use the phone. These may produce sparks. Sniff for gas leaks, starting at the water heater. If you smell gas or hear gas escaping, turn off the main valve, open windows, leave the area immediately, and call the gas company or a qualified appliance repair person or plumber for repairs. Never store flammable materials near any gas appliance or equipment.
Check to make sure your smoke detector is functioning. Smoke detectors can save your life while fires are still small. Check the battery frequently to make sure the detector is operating. Fire extinguishers also are a good idea. Keep them current.
Gasoline is made to explode! Never use gasoline around ignition sources such as cigarettes, matches, lighters, water heaters, or electric sparks. Gasoline vapors can travel and be ignited by pilot lights, thermostats or other ignition sources. Make sure that gasoline powered generators are away from easily combustible materials.
Chain saws can be hazardous, especially if they "kick back." To help reduce this hazard, make sure that your chain saw in equipped with the low-kickback chain. Look for other safety features on chain saws, including hand guard, safety tip, chain brake, vibration reduction system, spark arrestor on gasoline models, trigger or throttle lockout, chain catcher, and bumper spikes. Always wear shoes, gloves, and protective glasses. On new saws, look for certification to the ANSI B-175.1 standard.
When cleaning up from a flood, store medicines and chemicals away from young children. Poisonings can happen when young children swallow medicines and household chemicals. Keep household chemicals and medicines locked up and away from children. Use the child resistant closures that come on most medicines and chemicals. Burning charcoal gives off carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide has no odor and can kill you. Never burn charcoal inside homes, tents, campers, vans, cars, trucks, garages, or mobile homes.
WARNING: Submerged circuit breakers and fuses pose explosion and fire hazard! Replace all circuit breakers and fuses that have been under water:
GAS CONTROL VALVES on furnaces, water heaters, and other gas appliances that have been under water are unfit for continued use. If they are used, they could cause a fire or an explosion. Silt and corrosion from flood water can damage internal components of control valves and prevent proper operation. Gas can leak and result in an explosion or fire. Replace ALL gas control valves that have been under water.
For "disaster-related" questions, call the FEMA Helpline at 800-525-0321.
For people who live in counties already declared eligible for "federal disaster assistance," call FEMA on 800-462-9029.
Landslides or Rockslides
Landslides or rockslides threaten to cause unexpected damage where higher ground is found near some construction, whether it is a house, business or road. Due to having been cut through or due to being near mountains or ridges, roads are the most frequently reported target of land or rock slides. TEMA typically does not get involved in these local emergencies unless the accident involves some other threat, such as hazardous materials release or the damages exceed Stafford Act thresholds.
Sinkholes or Caves
Tennessee is subject to unexpected appearances of sinkholes or caves in property or roads. These threats are caused by the type of geology found in the State of Tennessee. Subsidence is especially prevalent after excessive rains.
Karst topography is limestone which is subject to or is eroding due to water leaching into the ground. The water rapidly erodes the surrounding soil and rock into tunnels, caverns and sinkholes. This is particularly threatening near a dam. Some of the dams in the Tennessee Valley have been discovered to suffer from this weakness.
NOTE: Earthquakes are a geologic threat, but due to the unique issues found in an earthquake that type of geologic threat is dealt with as a separate threat.
In most cases, the response to hazardous materials (HAZMAT) incidents is handled by the local jurisdiction, typically by the fire department and sometimes by a specialized HAZMAT team. Railroads contract with special HAZMAT companies to perform cleanup and remediation for a HAZMAT release.
TEMA has plans in place to respond to any HAZMAT spill on highways, rivers, rails or public property. The first responders are nearly always local city and county responders who are trained by TEMA. OSHA requires hazardous materials teams to be qualified based upon published standards in consolidated federal regulations (CFR) which then becomes law. TEMA provides specialized training for two levels of HAZMAT expertise, technician level and specialist level. TEMA routinely provides an area coordinator, who will usually also be a qualified HAZMAT technician or specialist, to assist or advise local jurisdictions with significant releases. TEMA will always support and back-up those responders with whatever resources or manpower that they might request. If necessary, TEMA will either contract HAZMAT companies, request federal resources and manpower to assist in the response or both.
TEMA will utilize any communications means available to notify the public of hazards caused by accidents or other HAZMAT release. Citizens will be notified by radio and television which will be first informed through public announcements, 911 services (24-hour warning points), TEMA warning networks with county emergency management agencies and by National Weather Service systems. Often, additional warnings may be provided by public sirens and electronic sign-boards.
TEMA can call out certain environmental personnel, such as the state's Department of Environment and Conservation Water Pollution Control Division, to assist local agencies in dealing with the consequences of releases. Additionally, TEMA routinely notifies the National Response Center of activities associated with HAZMAT releases in Tennessee. Frequently, state and local officials contact the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance in dealing with technical aspects of HAZMAT incidents.
This is the federal, state and local chain-of-command. The national emergency management system calls this system ICS (Incident Command System) and NIMS (National Incident Management System). It works the same way in every city, county and state in the nation. The local, state and federal officials work very closely with the private or public transportation carriers to assure a quick and effective response. Often, the fastest clean-up can be achieved by privately-owned emergency HAZMAT companies hired by the transporters. The shipper or originating facility is responsible for the costs of the response and remediation of affected areas.
The information below is from the TEMP (Tennessee Emergency Management Plan).
TEMA's response actions in a HAZMAT incident:
1. Notify and dispatch appropriate local, state and federal personnel to assist with HAZMAT operations.
2. Maintain logs and records concerning the incident and its events.
3. Notify the National Response Center (NRC).
4. Contact the Chemical Emergency Transportation Center (CHEMTREC), if requested by local or state response personnel.
5. Notify appropriate state Emergency Service Coordinators (ESC) or other contact personnel.
6. Notify the FEMA Region IV Regional Response Team (and request assistance, if needed).
7. Coordinate response activities of mutual aid personnel/agencies, including fire and emergency medical service agencies.
8. Provide information concerning extent and nature of the problem(s) to Emergency Service Function- Five (ESF-5) groups, which consists of the information and planning functions of agencies or authorities relevant or responding to the incident.
9. Contact clean-up companies, shippers, and others with an interest in the incident, as requested by on-scene personnel.
10. Initiate federal involvement (through appropriate regional office) if warranted.
11. Task other agencies and ESFs as necessary to carry out missions.
12. Develop priorities for response when multiple incidents are involved.
Emergency Preparedness for Earthquakes
By now everyone in the state is familiar with the New Madrid Earthquake zone and the potential it has for creating a major catastrophe, not only for Tennessee but also for much of the country. In addition, there is an unnamed and largely undescribed earthquake zone that roughly parallels Interstate 75 from Chattanooga to near Knoxville. So, earthquakes are a concern for citizens in more than just the western part of the state. A major earthquake represents what would potentially be the largest natural disaster ever to occur in the state of Tennessee. Some estimates suggest that a major earthquake in the New Madrid zone would be a nationwide catastrophic event, largely due to the interruption in transportation, communications, fuel supply, and the economic consequences that would be experienced as a result of damage to the infrastructure.
You can get an idea of how much more devastating a Central U. S. earthquake could be to the county by comparing the extent of damages from a 6.7 event in Northridge, California. This picture shows that an earthquake similar to that quake could cause major damage across a wide area.
Preparedness Information for Earthquakes
Tennessee is located where the jet stream typically brings all kinds of aberrant weather. Due to the variations of the jet stream and where it may be at any particular time, it is difficult to forecast Tennessee weather with consistent accuracy. The weather in Tennessee is changeable, in fact, it has long been said that, "if you don't like the weather in Tennessee, just wait ... it will change!"
Thunderstorms are prevalent in Tennessee year-round. Although they are more frequent in the spring and the fall, they may happen in any month. High straight-line winds are often as much a threat to the public as tornadoes. Straight-line winds of up to 60 mph are not unusual and typically precede a front which dramatically changes the current temperature.
If you anticipate the arrival of a front, expect straight-line winds 10-20 miles ahead of the front. Stay calm, but seek shelter immediately. Avoid rooms with windows and if there is an option, select a room in the center of the house with good structural support, usually the smaller the better. Keep a TV or radio handy and a flashlight in your shelter. Wear shoes to protect your feet from broken glass and other debris left by the storm. Protect your head and chest; crouch, face to floor, hands behind your head. Cover yourself with blankets, pillows or coats. Hide under sturdy furniture. You should take shelter within the bathtub if there are no glass tub enclosures or large mirrors nearby. Avoid candles, gas lanterns and oil lamps.
In schools and offices: seek a designated shelter in interior rooms or hallways on the ground floor or the lowest floor possible. A basement area is the best protection if it will stay dry. Avoid auditoriums and gymnasiums. In shopping malls, seek the smaller interior shops on the ground floor. In shopping centers, avoid the large open rooms as well as the walls from the direction which the storm is approaching.
Evacuate mobile homes and vehicles! These are never safe. Seek shelter in more substantial structures, or as a last resort immediately before arrival in a ditch or culvert. Find another place to be as quickly as possible after the front has moved through since rain will bring fast-rising water to your ditch.
The best way to protect yourself in a severe winter storm is to prepare before it arrives. Most winter storms do not last over a few days.
Outdoor Survival -- The Six Survival Rules
If you find yourself stranded or lost outdoors, you can depend on these three things:
Plan your travel and check weather reports to avoid the storm. Delay any trips if possible.
Conserve vehicle fuel, run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, crack a window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. In extreme cold, use seat covers, newspapers, blankets or extra clothing for covering - anything to provide insulation and warmth. Turn the dome light on so rescue teams can spot you at night, but do not run the battery down. If you have a cell phone, use it as needed but leave it off when you are not using it so the battery will be available for a really urgent need.
Assemble supplies for a vehicle disaster supply kit, packing them in an easy-to-carry container.
Learn the difference between a Tornado Watch and a Tornado Warning:
A Tornado Watch indicates that conditions are right for a tornado to develop and that the sky should be watched. Tornadoes usually follow severe thunderstorms, so be alert to changing weather conditions.
A Tornado Warning indicates a tornado has been sighted or that radar indicates one has developed or could develop within minutes. Warnings will give the location of the tornado and the area immediately affected by the warning. When a warning is issued, move quickly to shelter.
Immediate Dangers -- The immediate threat from tornadoes is danger to life and property from violently whirling winds and debris hurled through the air by the winds. Wind speeds in tornadoes can exceed 250 mph.
Long-Term Dangers -- Long-term risks include the possibility of building collapse, fallen trees and power lines, broken gas lines, broken sewer and water mains, and the outbreak of fires. Agricultural crops and industries may be damaged or destroyed.
What to do BEFORE a Tornado
Designate a location for shelter. Have a disaster supply kit on hand containing:
Know what a tornado watch and warning mean. A warning tells you that a tornado has been observed or suspected. Listen to local radio/TV stations or NOAA weather radio for weather information which may change rapidly. Develop a family communications plan. In case family members are separated during a disaster, have a plan for getting back together. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the family contact. After a disaster, it is often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address and phone number of that contact person.
During a Tornado
After a Tornado
Tornadoes are part of a severe thunderstorm and bring with them the dangers of lightning, high winds, floods and flash floods from extremely heavy rainfall.
There are frequent incidents involving air or rail passenger travel which result in death or serious injury. TEMA typically does not respond to highway incidents (unless requested) since local responders and local emergency management personnel can handle these issues. Air and rail accidents usually require more resources than available in the local jurisdiction and are often handled by TEMA. The state also has 4 major airports, and several smaller ones.
When driving on our highways motorists are encouraged to buckle their seatbelts and be aware of potential stoppages of traffic. Emergency management officials in Tennessee will normally re-route traffic when there are lengthy delays expected on major highways or interstates. Travelers by air or rail are advised to check the threat levels established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and take precautions accordingly.