How to stay connected during this time

Did you know that smartphones can be a lifeline for you in a natural disaster? Not only will it get you the help you need, it will also make it possible to stay  connected with friends and family during  and after a disaster happens. The key is, as with most things, is to be prepared. You don’t want to be frantically downloading the Red Cross first aid app with 5% battery and a spotty cell connections after the power is out. Download, charge, login, set up all the devices and apps before.

From walkie-talkie app Zello to messaging app FireChat, which works offline, here’s how to get your mobile device ready ahead of the storm.

  • Charge your phone and any old ones
  • Use low-power mode
  • Install Zello, FireChat and Glympse for communication
  • Download offline Google Maps
  • Enable emergency push alerts

Prep your phone

Smartphones run through batteries fast. Without some restraint and backup plans, it could drain even faster during a storm when you’re constantly checking for updates.

Fully charge your main phone and any extra phones you have lying around in drawers. You could use them to call 911 or swap in your SIM card to do more. For backup power, charge any power packs you have, as well as laptops. In a pinch, you can charge a phone off of a laptop. Make sure you also have your cords ready, including one that can plug into a car — another power source.

Many newer smartphones have some level of waterproofing, but if you’re headed out into bad weather or someplace at risk of flooding, pop it in a Ziploc bag or two.

To stretch out the battery life, turn on low power mode, dim the brightness, and turn off any unnecessary notifications. You can see which apps use the most power in Settings. Close them and avoid reopening unless necessary.

Install apps

After Hurricane Harvey, locals and unofficial rescue crews used some lesser known tools to locate people in need. Consider installing Zello a walkie-talkie app that lets you share audio messages and photos. You can create new channels or join existing ones — there are several already about Hurricane Florence — to communicate with others in the area and ask for help. But the free app requires a Wi-Fi or network connection (even older networks like 2G will work).

Meanwhile, FireChat is another messaging app that works without data or a signal, and instead relies on mesh networks. (But Bluetooth and W-Fi need to be turned on even if access isn’t available, according to the company).

The SCEMD has developed an emergency app that comes with pretty much all you will need for before, during and after a storm to know how to stay safe.

Glympse is a real-time location sharing app that complements Zello and FireChat. After using the apps’ messaging capabilities, Glympse users can share their exact whereabouts with rescue groups.

Airbnb’s Open Homes program helps those in need of shelter with people who want to list rooms or homes for free. You can also check out the SCEMD’s website for a list of shelters to meet your needs.

Finally, install a few of the Red Cross apps, which can offer first aid relief to both humans and pets.

Bookmark the basics

Go to your state emergency management or department of public safety site. Bookmark its main information page for the storm, and download any app they might have. While you are there, follow them on Twitter. Then do the same for your county and city or town.

Save your local emergency phone numbers to your phone, in case you can make phone calls but not search at a later time. Also bookmark pages for the National Hurricane Center, your local weather source, and FEMA.

Check online to see if your local 911 call centers can receive texts in an emergency. Texts can take longer to get a response, however. If you can’t get through to 911 on the phone, keep holding instead of hanging up and dialing again. If you do put out a call for help on social media, be sure to update it when you are safe.

You can also bookmark the webpages for Google’s Crisis Maps, which can show useful emergency information and shelter locations. Add CrowdSource Rescue, a site that tries to match people in need with neighbors who can help, and streamline emergency requests sent out over different social media platforms. Developed during Hurricane Harvey, the site was responsible for rescuing 25,000 in Houston, according to its creators.

And if you’re in the path of the storm and need the latest news, CNN has a “lite” version of CNN.com, with text-only versions of articles that can be more easily accessed even with a weak phone connection.

Get push alerts

Go to your phone’s settings and make sure emergency alerts are enabled for extreme threats and severe threats. The government can push these alert, which may include an evacuation order, to phones in regions via the WEA (wireless emergency alerts) system.

Stock up on maps

Maps can be a data hog. The Google Maps app lets you download entire maps for your area to your phone. On Android or iOS, search for your city and tap the more option (three dots), then tap “Download offline map.” Install the Waze navigation app if you think you’ll be driving and want to avoid unexpected road closures or accidents.

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Sittin’ in the dark, what do you do now?

Yes, of course you have a flashlight. But do you know where it is? Could you find it in the dark? Do you have extra batteries? Or a rechargeable (and fully charged) flashlight? Have a back up generator? You will still need to have a flashlight on hand to help find your way.

We suggest having a special box that you keep fresh batteries, charging stations and flashlights in – if they are rechargeable, keep them charged. You never know when you will need them.

Think about how you and your family may react to being in the dark. Being in the dark can be a scary experience for children. Turn it into a game by playing “lights-out” when you have plenty of light so they learn how to find the flashlight stash in the dark. Stick a flashlight or headlamp in an empty clear, plastic jug to make a lamp that lights up a lot more than the small light on its own could.

Candles are a great (and romantic!) backup. But remember, safety first. Candles are open flames and can be potentially dangerous. Make sure your candle holders are sturdy.

Caught sitting in the dark with no flashlights or candles? Got a craft box? Break out the crayons and place in an upright position with a sturdy base that won’t catch on fire. A new crayon will burn for about 30 minutes. Feeling extra crafty since you have all the time on your hands now that you’re in the dark? Home-made candles can also be made by soaking a string or rope in olive oil. Even an orange can be turned into a candle.

So now that you’re no longer in the dark, take your flashlight (or crayon candle) and go investigate the cause of the outage if you don’t already know it (if its storming, then the cause is probably a downed power-line, in that case don’t go outside in the storm).

If  its not storming and the lights go off, the first thing to do is determine whether it is really a power outage or a problem with your own breaker. Check your main electric panel. If you have blown a fuse or tripped a breaker, one or more of the switches may be turned off. Simply turn it back on and power should be restored.

If it is not a fuse or a breaker, check to see whether that power is out for your neighbors, too. Power can be lost in a very localized area. For instance, houses that are served by the same pole-mounted power transformer will be dark, while houses next door are fully lit.

If it is an outage, call your utility company and report it. Sometimes it can be hard to get through because other customers are also reporting interruptions. Please be patient. It is likely they already know about the problem and are working to fix it.

Did you know that while cordless phones or extension phones that require connection to an electric outlet will not work during power outages, but models that only need to be plugged into the phone jack will work? Also, your cellphone should work if you have the capability and data to call.

Another thing to do is to go around and turn off  and unplug your appliance that were running during the time of the outage.

Why? Here are three reasons:

  • Protecting your appliances: When power returns, there will be a surge of electrical energy that could damage sensitive equipment like computers, laptops, or televisions.
  • Safety: It is easy to forget during an outage that you had a stove burner or an iron on. If you’re away from home when electric service is restored, you can have a serious safety hazard.
  • Helping your utility to restore service: Restarting appliances can use almost double the amount of electricity that they use when running normally. Think of the way lights dim briefly when the A/C fan comes on. Then imagine the power demands placed on the electric system when every customer needs more power than usual – all at the same time. When the main switches are re-energized, this demand can cause breakers to trip. It helps if you don’t have all your appliances waiting to draw power the instant it is restored.

There are two options for how to turn off your appliances, both with advantages and disadvantages:

  • The first option is to unplug them one by one, leaving one light on to let you know electricity has been restored. However, it is easy to miss an appliance, and awkward to get around in the dark.
  • The second option is to turn off your main circuit breaker. This ensures that you will not overlook anything. It does mean you will have to keep an eye on streetlights outside to let you know that power has been restored.

Other tips:

  • If the outage is likely to be prolonged, and the weather is hot, prepare to stay cool as your house heats up:
    • Drink plenty of water – your body stays cool more efficiently when well hydrated.
    • Keep an eye on young children and the elderly for signs of heat exhaustion. Call 9-1-1 in case of a medical emergency.
    • The basement is often cooler than the rest of the house, so you may want to gather your family there.
    • Dress in loose, light clothing.
    • Draw drapes or cover south-facing windows with blankets to keep heat out. However, you still need ventilation, especially if regular cold-air intake systems are not working. Keep a window open slightly for a breeze.
  • While it may be tempting, do not run extension cords to the home of a neighbor who still has power. It is a fire hazard.
  • The choice to install a standby generator is yours. However, this equipment can be extremely dangerous if it is not connected properly and operated knowledgeably.
  • Residential consumers probably do not need a standby generator to cope with shorter outages. For a prolonged outage, you have the additional headache of storing enough fuel to operate it.

Skip the milk, bread and eggs, get these things instead.

Whenever a storm hits, people rush to the store and empty the shelves of three things…milk, bread and eggs. But believe it or not, you should NOT include those in your disaster prep.

Follow this information from Ready.gov so you will be prepared for whatever type of storm is headed your way.

Make sure your emergency kit is stocked with the items on the checklist below. Most of the items are inexpensive and easy to find, and any one of them could save your life. Headed to the store? Once you take a look at the basic items, consider what unique needs your family might have, such as supplies for pets, or seniors.
After an emergency, you may need to survive on your own for several days. Being prepared means having your own food, water and other supplies to last for at least 72 hours. A disaster supplies kit is a collection of basic items your household may need in the event of an emergency.
Basic Disaster Supplies Kit
To assemble your kit, store items in airtight plastic bags and put your entire disaster supplies kit in one or two easy-to-carry containers such as plastic bins or a duffel bag.
A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water – one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food – at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert
  • Flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps

Cell phone with chargers and a backup battery

Additional Emergency Supplies
Consider adding the following items to your emergency supply kit based on your individual needs:

  • Non-prescription medications such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids or laxatives
  • Prescription medications
  • Glasses and contact lens solution
  • Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes, diaper rash cream
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records saved electronically or in a waterproof, portable container
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Complete change of clothing appropriate for your climate and sturdy shoes
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper to disinfect water
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Maintaining Your Kit

After assembling your kit remember to maintain it so it’s ready when needed:

  • Keep canned food in a cool, dry place
  • Store boxed food in tightly closed plastic or metal containers
  • Replace expired items as needed
  • Re-think your needs every year and update your kit as your family’s needs change.

Kit Storage Locations

Since you do not know where you will be when an emergency occurs, prepare supplies for home, work and vehicles.

  • Home: Keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home quickly. Make sure all family members know where the kit is kept.
  • Work: Be prepared to shelter at work for at least 24 hours. Your work kit should include food, water and other necessities like medicines, as well as comfortable walking shoes, stored in a “grab and go” case.
  • Vehicle: In case you are stranded, keep a kit of emergency supplies in your car.

Flood Insurance: You never know when you will need it.

Did you know that flooding s the most common and costly natural disaster in the States, according to FEMA? And most homeowners are not adequately prepared to deal with rising flood waters. Why? Here are three common misconceptions about flood insurance needs:

  1. My homeowners insurance will cover flood damage. False. Home insurance covers lots of things, but flood damage is not usually one of them. You should check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure, but most cases it is not included. 
  2. I can’t afford flood insurance. Not necessarily! FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program have flood insurance polices that you can get at very reasonable premiums. It works by scaling your FEMA risk. The lower your risk, the less your coverage will cost.
  3. There is no river, stream, lake or pond near my home or business, so I am not at risk for being in a flood zone. False! Flooding can happen anywhere, not just in flood zones. Nearby water sources are not required for an area to be labeled a flood zone. Many areas in the Palmetto State are FEMA-designated flood zones, all with varying levels of risk. 

As sea levels rise along South Carolina’s coasts,  rivers and lakes may rise as well, causing even more flooding threats to your home and business. This rise in sea levels is not only eroding home values, it is also putting none-costal homes at risk, so it is good to know what flood insurance covers and weigh that against your willingness to risk damage to your home or business.

So what is flood insurance and what does it tend to cover?

According to Insurance Information Institute, “flood insurance covers direct physical losses by flood and losses resulting from flood-related erosion caused by heavy or prolonged rain, coastal storm surge, snow melt, blocked storm drainage systems, levee dam failure or other similar causes. To be considered a flood, waters must cover at least two acres or affect two properties.” Home coverages varies from carriers so it is best to shop your policy before making a choice.  It is also important to note, policyholders typically must wait 30 days before their policy takes effect. So you cannot purchase flood insurance once floodwaters begin to rise.

The SCDOI urges all home and business owners to purchase flood insurance. It is more affordable than you might think, and it will save you a lot of money if you are ever the victim of flood waters.

Go back to school safely with these tips

It is back to school time here in South Carolina, and if you’re like many families, that means getting back into a routine. Routines are a great way to make sure your life runs smoothly, but you are also at risk at becoming complacent to actively staying safe when you do the same thing five or more times a week. We are talking about transportation to and from school! Once you get the routine down, you might start doing things on “auto pilot” instead of paying attention to things around you. Here are some things to remember daily as school gets underway:

  1. Driving to school? Be aware of school busses. You must ALWAYS stop when traveling behind a bus with flashing amber or red lights. If you are traveling in the opposite direction of a bus and you see red lights flashing, you must stop as well.
  2. When should you stop for a bus: when you are on a four lane road and behind a stopped bus, you must stop. If you are coming from another direction, you do not have to stop, but SHOULD slow down and proceed with caution.
  3. Keep your eyes on the look out for pedestrians. If you do not stop for a bus, and a child is injured, you will be fined over $1,000 with an additional 6 points added to your license.
  4. School Zones mean you must drive carefully. Always be on the lookout for zone signs, signals and crossing guards.
  5. Don’t take shortcuts when it comes to drop off rules at school. Drop students off in designated areas only.
  6. Be a good example and wear your seatbelt. Don’t start your car until you hear a click from everyone’s seatbelt!Buckling your seat belt is the law – it also is smart and safe. Studies show that using a seat belt reduces the risk of dying in a vehicle collision by 50%.
  7. You’ve got a lot going on, but put the phone down. It can wait. The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year. Nearly 390,000 injuries occur each year from accidents caused by texting. Is that work email worth risking you and your kid’s lives? No.
  8. Make sure your child knows where to wait on the bus, and that they are on time. Students should be waiting at the bus stop approximately 5-10 minutes ahead of their scheduled pick up times. This allows drivers to adjust to new routes and schedules. Students should wear bright colors which helps with visibility with drivers. Students must stand at least 12 feet from the road. Remind your child how to practice safety while waiting on the bus!
    9. Make sure your child ONLY crosses streets at designated crosswalks, street corners and traffic controlled intersections. Drivers may be distracted, but if your child is paying attention, it could save their life.

Are you prepared and protected as a small business in the event of a disaster?

When disaster strikes, many businesses are forced to close their doors while in recovery, and this puts those businesses at a high risk of never being able to reopen their doors. While you cannot escape Mother Nature, you can be better prepared with a disaster plan and enough insurance coverage to help in recovery and reopening your small business.

A recovery plan has a few elements that are important to follow.

  • Be sure to set up a response plan, and know how to use it! Make sure your employees know how to use it too. Things to include: who to notify when there is a disaster, direct steps on how to minimalize property loss and protect lives. Be sure each of these steps are written out in simple language and rehearsed often.
  • While you’re at it, include a list of names, numbers and addresses of those who would be needed in a disaster, team members, authorities, contractors, clients, insurance agents and company claim representatives etc.
  • Stay in touch with your customers. Find some way to reach out to the community and let them know what is going on. This can be done through social media or by an old-fashioned sign in the window.
  • Think about your resources: do you need back up power? Back up phones? How will you deal with team members who cannot get to work, yet the business is still open? Is your building up to code? Make sure it is. It is always a good idea to reach out to other small businesses around you and let them know what you are doing and see if they would like to collaborate on a disaster plan.

Be ready financially by following these steps:

  • Figure out what are your critical business activities. If you cannot afford to shut down for a period of time, make sure you have a backup location that you can carry out your work from.
  • Protect your data! Make sure all your financial and client data is backed up safely.
  • Review your insurance plan and make sure you have sufficient coverage to pay for damages and to cover you for other costs from loss of ability to conduct business.

Types of insurance you should consider:

  • Building coverage insures recovery of the physical location if it is destroyed or damaged.
  • Business personal property is coverage for contents and inventory damaged or lost.
  • Tenants improvements and betterments covers fixtures, installations or any changes made as a result.
  • Additional property coverage covers items like fences, pools and so forth.
  • Business income covers loss of revenue and your day to day operating expenses.

You have home insurance, but do you have this home plan?

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Keeping your house insured is important – but what about having a plan in place to protect those inside your home in case of a fire? Do you have and practice a house fire escape plan? It could be the difference between life and death in a fire.

While thinking about waking up in the middle of the night to your smoke detector going of and flames lapping through your home is very unpleasant, even scary, thinking about  and panning out how you would evacuate your home in this scenario ahead of time could save your life in the event of a fire. It is smart to practice this evacuation plan with those who are inside your home as well so that everyone has the best chance of escaping a house fire.

Most Americans think they would have plenty of time to escape a house fire, but the scary reality is that you could have as little as one or two minutes before being overcome by smoke.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows 71% of Americans have an escape plan in case of a fire, but shockingly only 47 % of those have practiced their plan. In a house fire, seconds matter and you don’t want to waste them trying to remember what your plan. A good escape plan has a designated outside meeting place and is practiced at least twice a year by everyone within the home.

Here are some other tips on how to best protect yourself and your family in the event of a fire.

Be Prepared

  1. Install smoke alarms inside and outside every sleeping area and on every level of your home.
  2. Test your smoke alarms monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Replace your smoke alarms every 10 years.
  3. Ensure everyone in the household knows the sound of the smoke alarm and what it signifies.
  4. Ensure everyone in the household can unlock and open all doors and windows, even in the dark.
  5. If a room has a window air conditioner, make sure there is still a second way out of the room. Windows with security bars, grills, and window guards should have emergency release devices. Make sure you can operate these.
  6. Conduct family fire drills. Make sure everyone living in the house knows two ways out of every room.
  7. Pick a meeting place. The meeting place should be a permanent fixture, like a large tree, and should be far enough from the house to ensure everyone’s safety in an emergency.
    Children, older adults, and people with disabilities may need assistance to wake up and get out. Make sure that someone will help them.
  8. Teach your children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them.

Get Out

  1. If the smoke alarm sounds or fire is discovered in your home, get out fast. Close doors behind you as you leave to help stop the spread of the fire.
  2. Doors need to be tested before opening them. Use the back of your hand to see if the door is warm. If it is, use another escape route.
  3. Close the door when escaping a fire. A closed door can limit property loss and increase survivability during a home fire.
  4. If you have to escape through smoke, get low and go under the smoke to your way out.
    If you are trapped, close all doors between you and the fire. Stuff the cracks around the doors with clothes or towels to keep out smoke.
  5. Call the fire department, wait at a window and signal for help with a light-colored cloth or a flashlight.

Stay Out

  1. Once you are out, stay out. Don’t go back inside for any reason.
  2. Call the fire department from your safe outside meeting place.
  3. If people or pets are trapped, notify the fire department and let them handle the rescue efforts.