The EM Board
SARA Title III
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Emergency Management is Planning to Save Your Life
Madison County's Hazards
In order to minimize the effects of hazards and disasters upon the citizens and property of the Huntsville-Madison County area, those hazards and disasters which effect the population must be identified. This is done through a Hazard Analysis.
A Hazard Analysis determines the emergency management needs of a community. To determine what hazards exist in the Huntsville-Madison County area, an analysis of the events which have historically occurred, our actual vulnerability to specific events, the frequency of each incident, and the number of our population at risk must be assessed. When knowledge of the hazards is combined with the knowledge of their potential impacts on the county, the result is a measure of the vulnerability of the county.
The hazards which have been identified for Madison County and require planning are listed below in order according to their potential for occurring and the impact on the greatest number of population:
To learn more about each specific hazard, please click on the appropriate item.
The most prevalent hazard we face in Madison County is severe thunderstorms. Severe thunderstorms are defined as any storm with winds in excess of 60 miles an hour or with hail 3/4 inch or larger. Severe thunderstorms produce dangerous lightning, damaging winds, hail, and heavy rains that may result in flooding. Tornadoes may develop during severe thunderstorms.
The fourth most prevalent hazard we face in Madison County is tornadoes. Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air that descend from thunderstorms to come in contact with the ground.
The National Weather Service reports that between 1950 and 1999, Madison County had 36 tornadoes. In the State of Alabama, tornadoes occur most often in the months of March, April, and May. A secondary tornado season occurs in the fall, typically in November. While tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night, most tornadoes occur in the afternoon between noon and 6:00 p.m.
Historically, the worst tornado disaster to hit Madison County was the November 15, 1989 tornado in Huntsville, which caused well over 20 fatalities and damage totaling millions of dollars.
Floods, similar to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, tend to generally occur most frequently during the late winter and spring, but can develop at any time of the year when conditions are right. Flooding can be divided into two categories: flash floods and mainstream flooding. Flash floods occur from excessive rainfall or possibly a dam failure. Mainstream flooding occurs when excessive rainfall causes the water in rivers and streams to overflow. Both types of floods can cause death, injury, and the destruction of property. According to the National Weather Service, on average, flooding and flash flooding account for about as many deaths nationally each year as lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes combined.
The National Weather Service monitors the flood stage of rivers which could overflow their banks, affecting the residents of Madison County. In Madison County, these rivers are the Tennessee River, the Paint Rock River, and the Flint River.
The fifth most prevalent hazard we face in Madison County is heat waves. Extreme heat experienced in the summer months can physically affect all of us. Additionally, extreme heat can pose physical problems to the elderly, small children, invalids, heart patients, respiratory patients, those on certain medications or drugs, persons with weight or alcohol problems, and persons whose employment requires them to work outside during extremely hot weather.
Winter storms can bring heavy snow, freezing rain, high winds, ice, and extended freezes, and can cause hypothermia, broken pipes, house fires, icy roads, and power outages in Madison County. Typically, winter storms occur in Madison County in January and February; however, they can occur in other months as well. Proper planning before the winter storm hits is very important. Get needed supplies ahead of time, and make certain that you have an alternate heat source in case you experience an extended power outage.
The North Alabama Region can be affected by the New Madrid Fault which runs from Cairo, Illinois to Marked Tree, Arkansas. Earthquakes in other States along this fault can be felt in North Alabama. While the area in North Alabama to potentially receive the most damage is in the northwest portion of the State, we still are at risk in Madison County. Also, to our east, the Pulaski Fault runs along Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee down through Sand Mountain into DeKalb County, Alabama. We may not experience a major seismic event, but could possibly receive some damage to poorly constructed buildings (masonry cracks, falling chimneys), changes in water well levels, and damage to utility lines, telephone lines, sewer lines, etc.
The potential exists that a major fire will occur anywhere in Madison County. Flammable fuels and materials, toxic materials, closely spaced or older buildings, hospitals, schools and other gathering places, industries, transportation accidents, manufacturing facilities, plus forests and fields all have a potential for being involved in a major fire.
A major fire is one in which its size, intensity, and extraordinary threat to life and property is beyond the normal firefighting capability of a fire department. A major fire can be such a great threat to public safety that other agencies must act to help save lives, protect property, and maintain order. All fire departments in Madison County have mutual aid agreements to assist each other in an emergency. Mutual aid agreements also exist with 12 other counties through the North Alabama Mutual Assistance Association.
The Huntsville-Madison County area is exposed daily to the possibility of major air and highway accidents. To a lesser extent the area is exposed to the possibility of railroad and water traffic accidents.
Major transportation accidents often produce chemical spills, fires, and other consequences calling for special operations, such as rescue or evacuation. Usually, transportation accidents are limited in size of incident area and involve only a limited number of victims.
An airplane crash may create the need for fire fighting and other operations in the area of impact.
A highway crash involving buses or carriers of hazardous cargoes can involve substantial rescue, fire fighting, and evacuation operation.
A railroad accident usually is limited in fatalities but can produce hazardous situations when it occurs in or near business or residential areas, particularly if the cargo is flammable or explosive. Usually a railroad accident in or near a built-up community can be handled locally. If a railroad wreck occurs in a remote area, it may be necessary to use special vehicles or a relief train to get help to the victims.
Regardless of the type of major transportation accident, the first consideration should be to save lives through quick response and coordination of police, fire and medical services.
When a transportation accident involves chemicals or other hazardous materials, or otherwise effects the general public, emergency public information will be issued to the news media to inform citizens of the appropriate actions to take.
The likelihood of Madison County suffering a major disaster caused by a hazardous materials accident has grown considerably because of the increase in everyday use by all segments of our population, compounded by the increased movement of hazardous materials by all modes of transportation. Hazardous materials are prevalent in most households and businesses in Madison County.
There are several thousand hazardous materials in daily use that can cause a local emergency that could affect a substantial number of people. These effects include potential contamination of a community, explosions, and fires.
Businesses and industries in Madison County maintain a current Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any hazardous material they manufacture, use, store, or transport. Additionally, businesses and industries that have Extremely Hazardous Substances above the Threshold Planning Quantity (in accordance with SARA Title III) are required to submit Uniform Emergency Response Plans to the Emergency Management Agency. These plans detail emergency evacuation routes and emergency procedures to be taken if a hazardous material incident/accident occurs at their facility.
Reporting a Hazardous Material Incident/Accident
Prompt reporting of a hazardous materials accident is every citizens' responsibility. Citizens should report all hazardous material accidents to 911. Local authorities, and particularly the Emergency Services (Police, Fire, HEMSI, Rescue Squad, and Emergency Management) need factual information upon which to base decisions on how to respond to the accident and execute their plan of action for handling the emergency. Citizens should not start or spread rumors. If they are a witness, they should tell the authorities exactly what they saw. If not a witness, the citizen should keep informed via radio or TV and not rush to the scene since this causes serious obstructions to the Emergency Services who are attempting to save lives and property. A citizen at the scene is needlessly exposing themselves to danger, particularly if hazardous material reactions take place.
Emergency Treatment of Casualties
A citizen may find it necessary to request first aid for a victim of a hazardous materials accident or for himself. Upon contamination of a hazardous material, call 911 immediately for medical assistance. Until help arrives, follow the first aid instructions given by the 911 operator.
There is a potential for radiological accidents to occur due to the widespread and growing commercial use and transportation of radioactive materials through North Alabama. Radioactive materials are utilized heavily in the medical and research fields as well as the Browns Ferry Nuclear Power Plant.
Madison County has nine dams listed on the Corps of Engineers Dam Inventory. None of the dams directly threaten life or residences, but could cause very minimal property damage. Additionally, Guntersville Dam is located up river from Huntsville in Marshall County. If Guntersville Dam were to fail, low lying areas along the Tennessee River from Cloud's Cove to Triana, and inland areas along the Paint Rock River and Flint River would flood. To protect your safety before, during, and after a dam failure occurs in your community, follow the safety guidelines indicated for floods.
Energy emergencies can include both fast developing fuel shortages caused by an oil embargo, a power or natural gas outage, and creeping shortages caused by rising costs of fuel and electricity.
Fuel shortages can be caused by localized imbalances in supply. Temporary maldistribution of supply can cause fast-developing local hardships. Strikes, severe cold weather, and winter storms can disrupt fuel movements and cause regional shortages.
A shortage of energy in one form can affect and cause shortages in other fuels such as propane, heating oil, and residual oil, which are substitutes for natural gas. These emergencies can threaten both our health and livelihoods.
An energy crisis will vary with the type of energy resource involved. A lightning bolt could cause an electric power blackout with no warning. A truckers' strike could be announced with a week or more to plan for the impending fuel shortage.
World-wide, the supply of oil and gas is dwindling. The U.S. depends on foreign countries for so much of our petroleum that we could have a severe energy emergency at any time if some or all of these countries should choose to cut off their oil deliveries.
A civil disturbance can occur in Madison County that would require the swift, coordinated response of municipal and county law enforcement and supporting agencies to protect lives and property and to maintain order.
A civil disturbance may range from a protest demonstration to full scale rioting; it may start as the result of a conspiracy or be triggered by an isolated incident. It may involve only residents of Huntsville, Madison, or Madison County; or outside groups may choose Huntsville or Madison County as a target for disorder.
Emergency Management's role in this situation is to coordinate necessary resources and disseminate emergency public information to citizens, telling them what actions to take for their own protection.
While the possibility of a terrorist incident in Madison County appears minimal, such activities may occur without warning.
After a significant lull from 1987 to 1992, we have now seen a dramatic change in terrorist acts in the U.S. in terms of political inclination, methodology, and targeting. The bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993 and the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, as well as the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 have alarmingly ended the lull and placed our nation on alert. Also in 2001, there were mailings of letters tainted with anthrax to a few high profile locations in the U.S. Sadly, all of these acts demonstrate that the U.S. has joined the rest of the world in seeing terrorists targeting mass human casualties. International ethnic terrorist groups and domestic extremist groups claiming various causes have moved into today's terrorism picture.
Tactics employed by terrorists include bombing (including the use of letter bombs, pipe bombs and fire bombs), the release of chemical and/or biological agents with the intention to maim or kill, kidnapping, assassination, hijacking, civil disobedience, arson, hostage taking, sabotage, extortion, and theft of funds and materials for political purposes.
Terrorists tend to select targets which are accessible, vulnerable, critical, and have symbolic significance to the public. Striking these type targets result in having the intended political, psychological, and economic effects. Examples of such targets include military installations, government buildings and officials, corporate offices of defense contractors, major sources of energy (nuclear power plants, hydroelectric plants, steam plants, etc.) and other vital industries.
In Madison County, the threat of terrorism exists, as we have federal and military facilities, as well as a defense industry presence.
At the present time, Alabama has no state statute that deals specifically with terrorism, so acts of terrorism are treated as violations of various laws. Since terrorist acts are criminal activities, it follows that law enforcement agencies are the lead agencies for investigating terrorist activities.
While it is evident that the Cold War is over, the threat of nuclear attack is not. Nuclear weapons, which theoretically belonged to governments, now belong to individuals, factions, terrorists groups, etc. with various ideologies and intentions. If faced by the possibility of a nuclear attack, the only practical option to protect Madison County residents is to shelter the population in fallout shelters. The Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency maintains a current listing of fallout shelters in Madison County, as well as a plan that addresses nuclear attack.
When most people think of landslides, they think of California; however, landslides have been known to occur in Madison County. Landslides are a natural geologic event that have occurred in all States and U.S. Territories.
A landslide is caused by multiple factors coming together to create slope instability, and cannot be attributed to one single event. The U.S. Geological Survey states that landslides occur when gravity acts on an overly steepened slope. Several factors may come together to trigger landslides. They are natural erosion; heavy saturation of soil by snow melt and/or rain; earthquakes; vibrations from machinery, traffic, blasting, and thunder; and excess weight on slopes from accumulation of rain or snow, from waste piles such as coal mine tailings, or from man-made structures.
The hazards of landslides can be reduced through geologic monitoring, excellent engineering practices, and the adoption of effective land-use management regulations.
For more detailed information concerning landslides, we suggest you visit the following site: