What to watch for in extreme heat waves


man sitting in front of fan with hair blowing

Here at the end of July, we’re having a little break from extreme heat, but there’s still quite a bit of summer to go so when it comes to the hot factor, we point to baseball great Yogi Berra’s saying that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.” There’s still plenty of beach time, camping time and general fun-in-the-sun time yet to go. If you’re not prepared for the summer heat, it can be more than just uncomfortable – it can be dangerous.

Heat danger comes in many forms and ranges across a whole spectrum from inconvenient and itchy to downright deadly. Thinking ahead and being properly prepared and equipped will help you maximize your fun in the sun.

It can’t hurt to be reminded of the basics: stay hydrated, wear sunscreen, and know when to retreat to the shade. Beer, sadly enough, is not hydrating. Drink plain old water. (Sports drinks aren’t significantly better than water for hydration, either.) Sunscreen is a must for everyone who plans to spend any length of time out in the direct sun. Even the darkest skin is prematurely aged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, and while dark skin does offer some protection against skin cancer, the risk is still present. If you’re heading out to the beach, check to see if beach umbrellas are available or take your own. You can’t count on the clouds to cover the sun when you need to sit in the shade and cool off.

Once you’re out in the sun, you’ll want to know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of different heat-related illnesses. Heat exhaustion, which can be effectively addressed with cooling and careful rehydration, can look a lot like heat stroke, a serious and possibly deadly condition requiring urgent medical attention.

It’s nothing to fool around with. Every year, there are stories of people who die from preventable heat-related illnesses – the CDC says that, on average, 658 people a year die from heat-related illnesses. See: ‘This Was Preventable’: Football Heat Deaths and the Rising Temperature

Knowing how heat affects you can help keep you safe when the sun is blasting down. Here’s some stories from some people who were going about their daily business, and suffered illness or collapse due to excessive heat. Learn from them – plan to keep cool when things heat up. Keep an eye out for those you care about who may be susceptible: kids who may not be aware of the danger, the elderly, outdoor workers — even your pets.

Get tips about how to deal with extreme heat from the National Weather Service and here’s a helpful chart from the CDC breaking down the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.

 

 

“It takes seconds.” Protect your children from drowning


Summer fun often happens in or around bodies of water: lakes, ponds, pools, and beaches are abuzz with activity during the warm-weather vacation months. But fun can turn to tragedy in the blink of an eye. Drowning is the number one killer of children aged 1-4, and it much of the time it happens even while an adult is close at hand.

That’s because drowning in real life doesn’t look like what we’d expect to see. In the movies, drowning people shout and wave their arms. In real life, drowning happens quietly and quickly, as the victim succumbs to the body’s instinctual drowning response. This can look a lot like a child attempting to dog-paddle.

“The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect,” said Mario Vittone, a water safety expert. “There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening. Drowning does not look like drowning.”

The recent tragic death by drowning of Emeline Grier Miller, the 19-month-old daughter of professional beach volleyball player and model Morgan Beck Miller and her husband, US Olympic gold medalist skier Bode Miller, serves as a stark example of how fast tragedy can strike.

“It takes SECONDS,” she wrote on Instagram, urging all parents of young children to be aware of the dangers of drowning.

To see what the Instinctive Drowning Response looks like as it happens, watch this scary video (warning: child endangerment):

Stay close to your kids when you’re in the water and know what to look for. Attention and knowledge are the best tools we have to keep our children safe from this all-too-frequent threat.

Bicycling safety: new bike helmet rating system from IIHS


man and woman riding bikes, wearing bike helmets

Remember learning to ride a bike? That sense of freedom, of speed, of the world suddenly opening up for you to explore with your pedaling feet? It’s a childhood milestone that most of us remember fondly, and with good reason: bicycles are just about the most efficient means of transportation we humans have yet devised. Two slim wheels attached to a tubular frame and driven by a clever set of gears that turn our churning legs into a brisk means of locomotion, bicycles are fun to ride, good exercise, great for the environment, and easy on the budget. Choosing to commute by bicycle instead of by car can save you money while burning calories. Brightly colored body-hugging Spandex bike shorts are, of course, optional. (Thank goodness.)

If you are new to commuting by bike, you’ll want to do your homework first. Will you be biking before sunup or after sundown? You’ll need lights and reflective clothing. Is your area hilly or flat? This could determine how your bike should be geared. What are the road conditions you’ll encounter? Are there dedicated bike lanes? Will you need to traverse uneven, unpaved terrain? That will affect which tires you choose for your bike. Will you be using your bike for shopping? Maybe panniers and a basket makes sense for you.

Bikes are simple machines, but they can and do break down. Do you know how to perform basic bicycle maintenance, like adjusting the seat, oiling the chain, inflating the tires, and setting the right height of the handlebars? Most of these questions are best answered by the expert at your local bike shop. He or she can walk you through all these decisions and get you on the bike that’s right for you and your commuting and recreational needs.

New bike helmet rating system

One of the first big decisions you’ll have to make regards safety equipment; specifically, choosing a bike helmet. Recent advances in materials technology and safety studies have led to a profusion of bicycle helmet styles and choices. New bicycle helmets are made of lightweight woven polymers designed with padding to absorb impact from all angles. They vary significantly in price, and cost isn’t necessarily the best predictor of performance.

To that end, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in conjunction with the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and Virginia Tech have created a ranking system to allow bicyclists to see for themselves which helmet is best for them. According to David Zuby, the chief research officer at IIHS:

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries.”

While there are federal standards that all bicycle helmets sold in the US must meet, the new standards advance the field by offering a closer analysis of more realistic accident data, gathered by researchers with experience testing other forms of protective headgear, such as hockey, football, and soccer equipment.

Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Labs says:

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury. We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements.”

Their research found important differences in the levels of protection offered by “urban” and “road” -style helmets. They also found that helmets incorporating a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) (which works by reducing friction inside the helmet, alleviating the rotational forces that cause concussion in many common bike accidents) were safer than models lacking the MIPS system.

The team tested 30 popular bicycle helmets to start with and plans to add many more to their rankings, including helmets intended for off-road (BMX) biking. Check out their methodology and see their list of bike helmet ratings.

So strap on your shiny new helmet and get to pedaling! Just, please, not on the sidewalk. Some of us are still walking.

 

How to ensure a safe boating season!


boating safety graphic

 

As we head into prime boating season, The National Safe Boating Council’s Wear It campaign offers some important safety messages. Check out these stats from the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics, the most recent report. The stats are a compilation of data from 50 states.

  • 83% of boat drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket
  • 77% of deaths occurred on boats where the operator had no boating safety instruction
  • 15% of the deaths involved alcohol as the leading factor
  • Two-thirds of drowning victims are good swimmers
  • 4,463 boating accidents occurred, up 7.3% from the prior year
  • 701 deaths occurred, up 12% from prior year
  • 2,903 injuries, 11.1% increase
  • $49 million dollars of property damage

One of the primary safety messages is Wear It: no matter what type of boating activity to you are involved in, wear a safety belt yourself and require all your passengers to wear one, too. It’s the single most effective safety measure you can take. For more on boating safety, download a copy of Boating Safety Tips from the National Safe Boating Council, which we’re reprinted below. We added some links to the tips, as well.

1. Wear a life jacket. No matter what activity you have planned on the water, always remember to wear a life jacket every time you are on the water. Accidents on the water can happen much too fast to reach and put on a stowed life jacket. Life jacket types, fit and care.

2. Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved, appropriate for your water activity and fits properly. A life jacket that is too large or too small can cause different situational problems. How to choose the right life jacket (PDF).

3. Know state boating laws. Rules and laws can differ from state to state and violations can result in ticketing, fines or jail time. State Boating Laws.

4. Take a boating safety course. Learn valuable tips that can help save your life in unexpected situations by taking a NASBLA (National Association of Boating Law Administrators) approved boating safety course. Many courses are online, and will save you money on your boat insurance. US Coast Guard – Boating Safety Courses.

5. Make sure your boat is prepared. There are many items that need to be check ed and rechecked on any boat. Schedule a Vessel Safety Check with your local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary or U.S. Power Squadrons before you hit the water. Every Vessel Safety Check is conducted 100 percent free of charge. U.S. Coast Guard’s Vessel Checks.

6. Be sure to know your boat’s capacity. If you have too much on your boat, the boat may become unstable and capsize.

7. Check the weather, including the water temperature. Know the latest marine weather forecast prior to going out, and keep a regular check for changing conditions. National Weather Service Marine Forecast.

8. Dress properly. Always dress for the weather, wearing layers if cooler weather, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet.

9. Always file a float plan. File a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, persons, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts. Find out more and get resources at the Coast Guard’s Float Plan Central.

10. Always follow navigation rules. Know the “Rules of the Road” such as operator’s responsibility, maintaining a proper lookout, safe speed, crossing, meeting head-on and overtaking situations. Know what’s going on around you at all times, and always travel at safe speeds for the environment. Find out more about navigation rules at Boat on Course from the National Safe Boating Council.

11. Don’t drink while you boat. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as the leading factor in 15 percent of deaths in 2016. Find out more at Operation Dry Water from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators.

12. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Gasoline-powered engines on boats, including onboard generators, produce carbon monoxide (CO), a colorless and odorless gas that can poison or kill someone who breathes too much of it. Be sure to install
and maintain a working CO detector, never block exhaust outlets, and always dock, beach or anchor at least 20 feet away from the nearest boat that is running a generator or engine. Learn more at Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning on Your Boat from the CDC.

13. Keep in touch. Communication devices can be the most important piece of emergency equipment on board a vessel, especially in case of emergency. Be sure to have at least two communication devices that work when wet, such as satellite phones, emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRB), VHF radios and personal locator beacons (PLB). Cell phones are not reliable in an emergency situation.

More boating safety resources

 

 

Wildfire Community Preparedness Day, May 5, 2018


wildfire preparation day graphic

In many parts of the US, wildfires are a constant threat. Wildfires destroy homes and property, injure and kill people and animals, and disrupt lives. We New Englanders tend to think of wildfires as only happening in the west, but that is not true. While less frequent and less damaging, there are indeed wildfires in New England. There are still some old-timers who remember a devastating Maine fire 70 years ago that destroyed towns and burned about a quarter of a million acres. People literally ran into the ocean to escape the flames.  New England’s severe drought a few year’s ago was a prime condition for wildfires.

May 5, the first Saturday in May, is Wildfire Community Preparation Day. Wherever you live, it’s a great opportunity to pitch in and help your community prepare for wildfires and a good reminder to look over your family’s own fire-preparedness plan.

So get the word out May 5: being properly prepared for wildfires is your best defense.

Preparation against wildfires is a matter of taking a few simple steps:

  • Get the most out of your smartphone. Get community weather alerts. Install the FEMA app or sign up for the Emergency Alert System.
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Radio also provides emergency alerts.
  • Know your evacuation route, and have a plan B. And even a plan C. You don’t always know which exit will be passable. Make plans for your pets and livestock, too.Have your bug-out bag packed. Keep a number of N95 respirator masks handy. These sub-$20 face masks will alleviate the threat from inhaled ash, grit, and other particulates.
  • Store your important documents in a fire-proof safe, and have password-protected back-ups of your data.
  • Make sure the hose will reach. You want to be able to soak every inch of your property with it.
  • Build with fire-resistant materials. Know the properties of the materials you’re using to build, renovate, and repair your home and outbuildings.
  • Make a firebreak. Keep flammable material such as leaves, firewood, and debris at least thirty feet away from your home.
  • Keep your insurance coverage up to date. If you’ve made renovations or additions to your property, let your insurance agent know. Go over all your insurance coverages with your agent once a year to make sure they’re up-to-date and suites to your current needs.

Fire safety works best when everyone collaborates. Get together with your friends and family on May 5 and make your community safer from wildfires.