Winter Weather Safety – Resources for Braving the Storm of 2014

NOAA Frostbite Poster

Central and eastern sections of the U.S. have experienced snowfall and in some areas record cold over the last day or so. In a few locations, the temperatures have been so low that it has become dangerous to even be outside. However many government workers who provide essential services like police, fire, and snow removal still must brave the cold. If your government is looking for resources to help educate your community about staying safe during extreme weather conditions or if you are looking for information to give your workers to help them stay safe, check out the following agency sites for some winter survival tips:


Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety – this guide combines all of the key content of the CDC Winter Weather website into one downloadable, printable file. The CDC also has infographics, brochures, audiocasts, and other resources you can download and use in your public service messages. You can access this information through the sidebar at the link posted.



WINTER STORMS & EXTREME COLD site – here you can find many tips and advice for before, during, and after a winter storm

Winter Fire Safety – The US Fire Administration has some great resources to get the word out about fire safety during winter weather. They offer an infographic and social media messages and statistics you can post along with videos, audiocasts, and banners like the one at the bottom of this post.


NOAA: In addition to linking to NOAA's forecast page for your area, you can access and use the many resources NOAA offers on their site.


AAA: Tips for Safe Winter Driving Video – the video below was found on YouTube and can be embedded on websites or social media pages to offer citizens winter driving tips. You can also do a general search of YouTube to find other videos offering similar advice.


Additional Resources:

It's also useful to share the following types of information with the public. If you don't already have this information readily available, you can usually find it by searching on Google or Bing for the term and the name of your state or city and then offering the link for your local information. Also, some of this information may already be available from other departments at your city.


Warming Centers – It is common during winter storms to lose power. When that happens, you don't people wondering where they can go to keep warm. So it's useful to post this information ahead of time either on your website or on social media to remind people if they lose power, there are places they can go to avoid the cold. Here is the link to the one I found for our state by searching on Google for "warming centers" in Illinois: Keep Warm Illinois

Closings and Cancellations – extreme winter weather often results in closings and cancellations. If people can find out about these ahead of time, it might keep them from trying to head out in dangerous conditions. You can usually find a link to a site posting these by searching on Google or Bing and adding the name of your city or area in the search space. If your local radio or newspaper sites post a page with these, you can post a link to their page or you can always direct people to listen for closings and cancellations on a station if you know they announce them at regular times throughout the day. 

Pet Care Tips – The Humane Society offers tips and advice on how to take care of pets and wildlife during the winter. Providing a link to their site or to sites of similar organizations can help people keep their pets safe.

Frozen pipes or water meters – sometimes extreme cold can cause pipes or water meters to freeze. Because the process for dealing with this varies from agency to agency, you will need to prepare this information based on how your own area handles this type of issue. The typical type of advice to offer is:

  • How to find and turn off your main water valve in your home
  • Information about keeping drafts off pipes and other steps that can be taken to prevent frozen lines
  • Tips for thawing pipes
  • A number to call for help or information

Snow plowing updates – many communities now post regular updates on where plows are or which roads are open or closed and where there are parking bans. Again, this is highly localized information that is usually obtained by the public works department. Here are some examples of what other communities offer to keep citizens updated on road conditions and snow plowing operations:


Winter Storm Fire Safety


Bumping into the DOT

As a civil engineer, the federal agencies I visit online are usually the DOT, EPA, and FHWA with an occasional click over to the USGS. Upon my entry into Second Life, I searched for these agencies within that virtual world and found nothing.

The only federal agencies that had made it into the virtual realm and set up islands were NASA, NOAA, and the CDC. And although from a personal level, I enjoyed visiting the islands and learning about agencies I really had known little about, I still held hope that one day, I would be able to visit the DOT, EPA, or FHWA in virtual form.

Well that day might be finally getting nearer. Last week, while I was traveling through Second Life researching colleges and universities for an article I am working on, I noticed an island called DOT World. I clicked it hoping it was open to the public, and sure enough I was teleported to the ground. There was only one building so I worried that maybe I had assumed wrong about the name of the island. Maybe someone had just happened to choose the common abbreviation for the Department of Transportation. But once I entered the small structure sitting in the corner of the sim, I knew it was the DOT for which I had searched. There on the conference table was the DOT logo.

DOT building in Second Life
DOT building in Second Life

As excited as I was to find the DOT in Second Life and as much as I wanted to tell everyone, I felt I should check to make sure they wouldn’t mind having their presence known – some agencies want to enter the virtual realm as quietly as possible while they figure out their approach to this new technology. So I IMed the island’s owner and received confirmation that I could publicly let folks know they were there. Unfortunately since then, they have closed off the island to public access so although they might not mind having folks know they are there, they seem to have decided they don’t want them poking around.

Anyway it appears official, the DOT has entered the virtual realm and set up shop in Second Life. And even though right now they only have one building for meetings and have decided not to let anyone visit, at least it is a start; perhaps they will even encourage the FHWA to follow them in. So with all the speculation about how progressive the Obama administration will be and how they will embrace new technologies, I have to think that it might not be long before I can attend classes and collect resources virtually. You don’t get much closer to putting a face to government than establishing an digital representations of your staff in avatar form.