Fort McCoy News Jan. 8, 2016

Safety officials: Preparation vital for winter survival

BY DAVID SAN MIGUEL
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center

The changing of seasons and hazards of winter cannot and should not be dismissed by Soldiers and their Families.

Last winter brought record snowfalls, sleet, freezing rain, ice, gusty winds, and bitterly cold air to much of the United States. Two of 2014's biggest storms killed at least 34 people and caused an estimated $750 million in damage.

According to the American Red Cross, dozens of people die from exposure to cold each year. Still more are killed in vehicle accidents and fires due to winter weather. The only way to prevent these injuries and deaths is to be adequately prepared for wintry conditions.

Safety kit graphic

Understanding what to expect when the meteorologist announces changes to the weather forecast is a first step. Stay informed by listening to the National Weather Service (NWS) or local radio and television stations for weather updates. Individuals should familiarize themselves with weather terminology to ensure they make informed decisions on what actions to take when storm conditions arise.

Called "deceptive killers" by the NWS, winter storms usually are not directly responsible for most fatalities. Instead, deaths are caused by traffic accidents and from prolonged exposure to cold. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends Families keep an emergency supply kit on hand and have their vehicles properly prepped and ready for winter-storm emergencies. Home kits should include a gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, a three-day supply of nonperishable food, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio and NOAA weather radio with tone alert, flashlight, extra batteries, whistle, manual can opener, and cellphone with chargers.

Other suggested items include prescription medications, eyeglasses, infant formula, diapers, cash or traveler's checks, sleeping bags, blankets, and household chlorine bleach.

If it's absolutely necessary to drive, plan trips carefully and listen to the radio or television to monitor forecasts and road conditions. Also top off your gas tank; ensure antifreeze levels are adequate; and test the battery, ignition, heater, and defrosting systems for proper operation.

Installation Safety Office Manager Randy Eddy said people should expect colder temperatures as the Wisconsin winter weather pattern continues, and do all they can to protect themselves from exposure to the cold.

"Prolonged exposure to cold can lead to hypothermia and frostbite," Eddy said. "Keeping aware of not only the temperature, but the wind-chill factor as well is important in determining the length of time one should plan to brave cold conditions."

Following are some more tips to prevent cold-weather injuries:

• Cover exposed skin as it is more likely to develop frostbite.

• Change into dry clothing at least daily and whenever clothing becomes wet.

• Nutrition and hydration are critical for maintaining body performance and resistance to extreme conditions.

• If you have to be out in extreme temperatures, keep the duration as short as possible and work in groups of no less than two personnel.

"Be safe, and protect yourself from exposure and injuries," Eddy said.

For more information on winter safety, visit www.ready.gov or https://safety.army.mil, the U.S. Army Public Health Command at http://phc.amedd.army.mil, or call the Installation Safety Office at 608-388-3403.