CONSUMER FORUM

Prepare for disasters

Posted Nov. 11, 2012, at 7:34 p.m.

Anyone who has lived through more than one Maine winter may have chuckled over the minor dust-up between the National Weather Service and The Weather Channel over the naming of last week’s storm.

On Wednesday, TWC named the latest nor’easter Winter Storm Athena. NWS reacted with an internal memo, reminding forecasters that it does not name storms and that NWS forecasts should make no mention of the name Athena.

A storm by any other name (to misquote the Bard) is just a storm, we might remind ourselves. As the NWS directive noted, storms can weaken and strengthen, and they can combine with other storms. This makes it unclear where one begins and another ends, making naming a less exact science than forecasting the weather.

Whatever we call them, winter storms can grab our attention far beyond their duration — remember the Ice Storm of 1998? Winter-hardened consumers should be as ready as they can be for such weather, and the tools are there to help.

The Maine Prepares website ( www.maine.gov/mema/prepare) is maintained by Maine’s Bureau of Emergency Preparedness. It greeted forecasts of last week’s storm with reminders about safe driving, especially as we would all be seeing ice- and slush-slicked roads for the first time in many months.

The website’s home page notes that snow and ice are not the only problems we face this time of year. Hurricanes are still a threat, and since strong storms can contain lightning, there are safety tips on that potential hazard. The site also contains links to the major public safety and information organizations: American Red Cross, National Weather Service, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Federal Emergency Management Agency — FEMA — and others.

FEMA’s version of the website is www.ready.gov. A clever public service announcement notes that the day before most disasters strike is an ordinary day — like today. The morale: prepare now, while things are ordinary.

The site offers lists of emergency supplies to last for 72 hours. Food, water and other essentials might not be accessible by usual means for some time following a disaster; having those things on hand in a kit you can get to easily just makes sense.

For those consumers who love checklists, visit the American Red Cross website (www.redcross.org) and search for “Disaster Safety & Library.” You’ll find safety checklists to help you prepare for natural and manmade disasters. Using such lists should help raise your awareness of possible dangers and allow you to take real steps to minimize the effects, should a disaster strike.

And, since there’s a fraud perpetrator around every corner, remember to donate only to real relief agencies whose names you know. Avoid blind solicitations by phone or email, and don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. Disaster fraud is still among the top ten scams. The federal Justice Department welcomes calls about such fraud attempts, at 866-720-5721.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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