Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Precautions necessary to stay safe in cold weather

With Alabama experiencing some of its coldest weather in living memory and the rest of winter expected to remain chilly, there are several measure students can take to ensures that they stay safe and comfortable in the frigid weather.

Portable heaters are a convenient and tempting way to keep the cold at bay, but Gene Holcomb, Tuscaloosa Fire Marshall, said they can be dangerous as well. An estimated 900 portable heater fires are reported to U.S. fire departments each year, resulting in 70 deaths, 150 injuries and $53 million in property damages. Although portable heaters were only involved in two percent of all heater-related fires, they were involved in 45 percent of all fatal heating fires

“Turn heaters off when you go to bed or leave the room, only purchase or use portable space heaters from a recognized testing laboratory, plug your heaters directly into outlets, make sure that on every level of your house that you have a working smoke detector and make sure you keep all combustibles away from your portable heaters, fire places, anything like that that could catch on fire,” Holcomb said.

Because of the convenience of portable heaters, Holcomb said, people are more likely to use them in potentially dangerous situations without realizing the threat.

“You see them used a lot in bedrooms because that’s where people are trying to sleep and stay warm,” Holcomb said. “We recommend you keep three feet clear around the heaters at all times, just to make sure nothing will catch on fire.”

According to the Insurance Insitute for Business and Home Safety, homeowners and renters should take precautions to prevent frozen water pipes. Students who rent houses and apartments should make sure exposed pipes in attics and basements are properly insultated. Local hardware and home improvement stores carry foam pipe insulation that can easily be installed.

When temperatures are expected to be low at night, letting faucets drip can help prevent pipe freezing and, if freezing does occur, prevent the pipes from bursting.

James Spann, chief meteorologist for ABC 33/40, said young children and the elderly, particularly those in low-income households, are at risk when temperatures drop.

“There’s a lot of low-income people in this state,” Spann said. “You go out in some of the lower-income neighborhoods and communities, and you’ll find families living in structures that there is no adequate heat, the insulation – there is none, it’s horribly cold. That’s always what worries me. But Alabama’s a good state. Hopefully neighbors look after neighbors and we’ll be okay.”

Children could put themselves in harms way if left unattended, particularly in Alabama, where few people will know the necessary precautions to take in freezing weather.

“Sometimes ponds will freeze,” Spann said. “And children, first thing they want to do is walk out on that ice, and of course that ice is as thin as a razor. The [cold] outbreak at ‘89 at Christmas, we had a death from a child, hypothermia.”

Even for young adults, cold weather cold spell disaster if something goes wrong on the road.

“In a case like tonight, when it’s 5 to 10 [degrees], maybe lower up north of here, if somebody breaks down and they’re driving and it’s four o’clock in the morning … if you’re not dressed right, you’ll freeze to death,” Spann said. “Just be sure if you’ve got pals that are traveling in the middle of the night during these kind of deals, just be sure and call them, text them, be sure you know where they are and be sure they make it. Keep an eye on each other.”

Drivers can also take precautions before they get on the road to make sure they’re prepared for an emergency situation.

“If I were by myself and I were traveling tonight, I would be sure I had in my car a blanket, some type of way to charge my cell phone, an external battery with a charger,” Spann said. “That’s the greatest concern. Driving conditions are fine, roads are dry as a bone. It’s if you break down.”

Pet owners should also make sure to take extra care when temperatures dip.

“You just can’t leave a domesticated animal outside when it’s 5 degrees,” Spann said. “They don’t like it any more than we do, and while they’re better equipped obviously with the way they’re built, they don’t need to stay outside. So bring them in.”

“The one thing I want college kids to do is get a decent app on their phone where they can get warnings,” Spann said. “We learned after April 27 [2011], a lot of college kids were thinking they were going to hear a siren. Let me tell you, that is dangerous.”

Spann recommended MyWARN and iMap Weather Radio as his two favorite weather alert apps.

“Yeah, they cost $9,” Spann said. “A weather radio costs $30.”


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