Emergency / Safety Tips - Be Prepared!

What supplies should I have on hand for an emergency?

Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit with items you may need in an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers such as backpacks, duffel bags, or covered trash containers. Include:

  • A three-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil.
  • One change of clothing and footwear per person, and one blanket and sleeping bag per person.
  • A first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications.
  • Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries
  • An extra set of keys and a credit card or cash
  • Sanitation supplies.
  • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.
  • An extra pair of glasses.

Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Keep a smaller Disaster Supplies Kit in the trunk of your car.

Whether or not your community is protected by an outdoor warning siren system or some other type of public notification system, the above information will still help you prepare and protect yourself in the event of an emergency. Take responsibility for your own safety. Plan to survive!

For more information contact your Emergency Management Office at 750-5911.

Simple Rules to Follow When Instructed to “Shelter in Place”

During the unlikely event of a chemical emergency or other emergency, the best way to protect you and your family may be to Shelter-in-Place. This simply means to go inside your home or office and follow some basic safety procedures to avoid contact with outside air.

  • Move everyone indoors.
  • Close and lock all windows and doors for a tighter seal.
  • Turn off heating, cooling and ventilation systems.
  • Everyone should go into one room.
  • Place plastic and duct tape around all windows, doors, vents, and fans.
  • Place wet, clean towels under the doors and if you smell a chemical odor use a wet towel to cover your nose and mouth.
  • Do not use the phone unless it is a life threatening situation. Emergency personnel will need the phone lines.
  • Listen to a local radio or television station for further instructions.
  • When you are notified of the ALL-CLEAR signal, open doors and windows to ventilate your home or office.

Most Accessible Emergency Shelters

McLennan County’s shelter plans include the City of Waco and the unincorporated areas of the County. If you live in the surrounding jurisdictions, please contact your local Emergency Management office for their shelter plans.

The shelters most accessible to people with disabilities or other functional and access needs, in order of accessibility, are:
  • Waco Multipurpose Center – 1020 Elm Street, Waco, Texas
  • South Waco Recreation Center – 2815 Speight, Waco, Texas
  • Cameron Park Clubhouse – 2601 Sturgis, Waco, Texas

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the Waco-McLennan County Office of Emergency Management at (254) 750-5911.

Tornado Facts

A tornado is a "violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground." It is a center of very low pressure surrounded by high winds, usually rotating counterclockwise. Tornadoes usually form in the mid portion of a supercell thunderstorm up to 30 minutes before lowering to the ground. The visible part of a tornado is composed of water, dust and debris.

A tornado that has not picked up much debris may not appear to touch the ground, but if damage is seen it is a tornado, not a funnel. A "funnel" or "funnel cloud" is a violently rotating column of air that does not touch the ground or cause any ground damage. The terms "twister" and "cyclone" may refer to a tornado. A "waterspout" is a tornado over water. All of these are similar (except for very large tornadoes) in that they are usually smooth and tapered, they hold together well, and they rotate.

Ragged clouds and rain shafts, often confused with tornadoes, do not rotate. As one spotter team says, "If it don't spin, don't call it in."

Most tornadoes develop from a low-hanging cloud beneath the rain-free base at the rear of a supercell thunderstorm. This "wall cloud" is usually 1 to 3 miles wide, often forming as much as 20 to 30 minutes before the tornado appears. Rotating wall clouds indicate a probable tornado while non-rotating wall clouds mean large hail is possible.

The rear portion of a tornadic storm is where the warm, moist air that fuels the storm enters. The front portion is the exhaust area from which wind, rain and hail can be expelled. Wind, rain and hail do not occur in all tornadic storms, but if they are present they usually occur in that order. The tornado usually appears first as a funnel cloud; then dips downward until it reaches the ground. During the first half of it's life, it increases in size; in the second half it shrinks to a rope-like structure and tilts.

These are two clues that might indicate a tornado is entering its dying phase. Even as it dies, it can still cause injury or death. The danger is not over until the tornado and the thunderstorm that produced it have dissipated. Tornadoes generally increase in activity in March, reach a maximum in April and May, and end in early June.

They occur most frequently between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and move toward the northeast at 30 to 40 mph. They can quickly change directions, accelerate to 70 mph, stop dead still, split into several separate tornadoes, or rejoin into one.

Lightning Facts

Lightning is the second most common cause of weather-related deaths in Texas, following only flooding. Many people are not aware of this, since it tends to strike only one or two victims at a time, and doesn't always make front-page headlines. Still, the numbers add up and everyone's level of concern needs to remain high, especially as we move into spring and summer.

There are several types of lightning discharges. Most discharges occur inside the storm -- from the storm into the air, or from beneath the storm into the ground. But, stronger, brighter and more powerful bolts can also strike from the side of the turret of the storm, reaching the ground several miles away from the storm itself.

These cloud-to-air and within-cloud strikes can be seen from 20 to 30 miles away or more. At this point, watch closely to see if the storms are approaching. If you can hear thunder, or can see a strike to the ground, you are within 10 to 15 miles, and in a high danger zone. You must have a safe location in mind and be ready to move to it quickly. If you are with a group, alert them to this threat and make sure everyone knows how to get to safety without delay.

You can estimate the distance to lightning by watching the flash and counting the number of seconds until thunder is heard. For every five seconds you count, the lightning is one mile away. Scientists estimate that lightning can travel at around one mile per minute.

You need to allow plenty of time to go to safety. If you are with a large group that reacts slowly, the safety time required may be 10 to 15 minutes. If you are close to shelter and can move quickly, you may only need five minutes but this is only an estimate, and if the lightning is extremely intense, bright and frequent, you should begin to move earlier.

Lightning primarily tends to strike tall objects as well as metal objects, and can travel through moist soils for dozens of feet. To select the best shelter, move into a sturdy building and stay away from windows and doors. For increased protection, avoid electric appliances or metal plumbing. Stay off the telephone.

If you are outside, the interior of a car, truck or bus is relatively safe from lightning. For added safety, do not touch any metal on the inside of the vehicle. The outside bed of a truck is a deadly and dangerous location.

Other vehicles are safer since their outside shells spread out to the lightning charge, weakening it and leaking it to the ground. It is not because thin rubber tires are grounding them. If you are outdoors with no shelter available as lightning approaches, stay low. Move away from hills and high places, and avoid tall, isolated trees. Do not touch metal objects, such as tennis rackets, and baseball bats, and golf clubs. Do not ride bicycles, or lean against fences or metal sheds.

Do not lean on a car or truck - get inside quickly. If you feel your hair suddenly stand on end, it means you may be a lightning target. Crouch low on the balls of your feet and try not to touch the ground with your knees or hands. Avoid wet areas that can conduct the lightning charge.

Outdoor Fire Safety & Heat Disorders

As the days begin to get hotter and drier during Texas summers or in drought, conditions, the chance for fires and heat related injuries and illnesses increase. The information provided below has been provided to give you safety tips on the prevention of fires, tips for safe fun in the sun and also first aid for heat related injuries and illnesses.

The following tips are especially crucial when a Burn Ban is in effect due to drought, heat/ high winds. Monitor the current KBDI (drought index used to determine forest fire potential) by launching the KBDI Interactive Map(This is a link to an interactive map, if you need assistance, please contact the Office of Emergency Management at (254) 750-5911.)

Campfire Safety

  • Dig a small pit away from overhanging branches. (Some Places have campfire pits ready and waiting for you.)
  • Circle the pit with rocks or be sure it already has a metal fire ring.
  • Clear a five-foot area around the pit down to the soil.
  • Keep a bucket of water and a shovel nearby.
  • Stack extra wood upwind and away from the fire.
  • After lighting, do not discard the match until it is cold.
  • Never leave a campfire unattended, not even for a minute.

Brushfire Safety

Urban Areas:

  • Keep your weeds and grass cut.
  • Remove dead and piled up vegetation, and dispose of it properly.
  • Properly dispose of trash and debris. Piles of refuse such as old furniture, boxes and pallets are fires waiting to happen. Even old cars can burn!
  • Stack firewood away from structures, fences or anything else that may be combustible.

Rural Areas:

  • Create at least a 30-ft. safety zone or firebreak around your home.
  • Limit the use of flammable plants in landscape design. Choose fire resistant varieties.
  • Plant trees and large shrubs in sparse, separate areas.
  • Limit the use of trees and shrubs that have large volumes of foliage and branches.
  • Limit the use of plants that have shaggy bark or dry leaves that shed annually.
  • Limit the use of plants that develop dry or dead undergrowth.
  • Limit the placement of plants next to structures, under eaves, overhangs, decks, etc.
  • Limit the use of plants placed at the bases of trees or large shrubs.
  • Remove ladder fuels (plants that provide a link between the ground and tree limbs).

Preventive Maintenance Tips:

  • Conduct regular maintenance to reduce the opportunity for brush fires.
  • Remove low hanging branches. Also, remove tree limbs around chimneys.
  • Keep the roof clear. Sweep gutters and eaves, and wash the roof on a regular basis to get rid of dry needles and leaves.
  • Control the height of ground vegetation and mow the grass often.
  • Remove dead and accumulated vegetation, and dispose of it properly.
  • Provide enough water to keep plants healthy and green. Keep irrigation systems in good working order.
  • Top trees only when necessary as topping creates too many lower branches that can increase the fire danger.
  • Remove or thin the dead wood and the older trees beyond 100 feet from the house.
  • Store and use flammable liquids properly.
  • ALWAYS dispose of cigarettes carefully.

Burning Trash:

  • If you must burn trash, don't pile it on the ground. It will not burn completely and will be easily blown around. Local fire officials can recommend a safe receptacle for burning trash. It should be placed in a cleared area, away from overhead branches and wires.
  • Never attempt to burn aerosol cans; heated cans will explode. Flying metal from an exploding can might (delete) cause an injury. Burning trash scattered by such an explosion has caused the spread of many fires.
  • Check local laws before burning. (Your area could be subject to a Burn Ban).
  • Check the weather; don't burn on dry, windy days.

Summertime Safety

Heat Disorders:

  • Heat cramps: Heat cramps are muscular pains and spasms due to heavy exertion. Although heat cramps are the least severe, they are an early signal that the body is having trouble with the heat.
  • Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion typically occurs when people exercise heavily or work in a hot, humid place where body fluids are lost through heavy sweating. Blood flow to the skin increases, causing blood flow to decrease to the vital organs. This results in a form of mild shock. If not treated, the victim may suffer heat stroke.
  • Heat stroke: Heat stroke is life-threatening. The victim's temperature control system, which induces produces sweating to cool the body, stops working. The body temperature can raise so high that brain damage and death may result if the body is not cooled quickly.
  • Sunstroke: Another term for heat stroke.

Prevention of Heat Disorders:

  • Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible. If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor, out of the sunshine. Try to go to a public building with air conditioning each day for several hours. Remember, electric fans do not cool the air, but they do help sweat evaporate, which cools your body.
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored clothing. Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy.
  • Drink plenty of water regularly and often. Your body needs water to keep cool.
  • Drink plenty of fluids even if you do not feel thirsty.
  • Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them. They can make you feel good briefly, but make the heat's effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, which dehydrates the body.
  • Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat.
  • Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician.

First Aid for Heat Disorders:

  • Heat cramps: Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position. Lightly stretch the affected muscle and replenish fluids. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them, as they can make conditions worse.
  • Heat exhaustion: Get the person out of the heat and into a cooler place. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths, such as towels or sheets. If the person is conscious, give cool water to drink. Make sure the person drinks slowly. Give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not give liquids that contain alcohol or caffeine. Let the victim rest in a comfortable position, and watch carefully for changes in his or her condition.
  • Heat stroke: Heat stroke is a life-threatening situation. Help is needed fast. Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. Move the person to a cooler place. Quickly cool the body. Immerse victim in a cool bath, or wrap wet sheets around the body and fan it. Watch for signals of breathing problems. Keep the person lying down and continue to cool the body any way you can. If the victim refuses water or is vomiting or there are changes in the level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.

Preparing for a Winter Storm

Cold snaps and heat waves can be as challenging and as deadly as any other natural disaster. You can best weather these times through pre-season preparation and the right know-how.

Terms to Know

  • Freezing Rain- Rain that freezes on contact with roads, trees, sidewalks, etc.
  • Sleet- Rain that freezes before hitting the ground
  • Winter Storm watch- A winter storm is possible in the area
  • Winter Storm Warning- A winter storm is occurring or will begin soon.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning- Temperatures are expected to drop below freezing.


  • Check your disaster supply kit or develop one.
  • Things that should be in your kit include:
    • First aid kit and essential medications
    • Canned food or non perishable food items to include comfort foods and can opener (three day supply)
    • At least three gallons of water per person. (one gallon per person per day)
    • Protective clothing and sleeping bags or blankets
    • Battery powered radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.
    • Special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family members.
  • Prepare your car
  • Check or have a mechanic check the following items on your car:
    • Antifreeze levels - ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
    • Battery and ignition system - should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
    • Brakes - check for wear and fluid levels.
    • Exhaust system - check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.
    • Fuel and air filters - replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas.
    • Heater and defroster - ensure they work properly.
    • Lights and flashing hazard lights - check for serviceability.
    • Oil - check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
    • Thermostat - ensure it works properly.
    • Windshield wiper equipment - repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.

Prepare your home and family

  • Prepare for possible isolation in your home by having sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off. For example, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
  • Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
  • Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk, as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Know ahead of time what you should do to help elderly or disabled friends, neighbors or employees.

Dress for the Weather

  • Wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.

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