REISTERSTOWN — The need to help Marylanders stay safe as the weather turns cold has prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to issue a proclamation and announce a multi-agency plan to teach winter safety measures.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration, the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland State Police, and local and state emergency management coordinators to encourage all Marylanders to learn more about winter safety and the importance of winter emergency preparedness.
Maryland Winter Safety Week extends from Dec. 2 through Dec. 8. Hogan issued an official proclamation on Monday, Dec. 2 at the MDoT SHA Annapolis District Office. Officials hosted a press conference with representatives of each of these state agencies the same day.
“Winters in our state bring frigid temperatures, intense winds, dangerous ice, and heavy snow, so I urge Marylanders to start preparing now,” Hogan said. “By being prepared, staying aware, and using common sense, we can all enjoy the winter season.”
According to the Maryland Department of Health, since the winter of 2013-2014, there have been 208 cold-related deaths in Maryland. This includes 61 cold-related deaths in the 2017-2018 winter season and 54 cold-related deaths during the 2018-2019 winter season. Thirty percent of these deaths occurred in Baltimore City alone.
Further, a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that of the nearly 11,000 weather-related deaths reported nationally between 2006 and 2010, 63 percent were attributable to excessive natural cold.
“If history is any guide, it’s likely that our state will experience some severe winter weather over the next few months,” said MEMA Executive Director Russell Strickland. “Our message is simple: Make preparations now so you can avoid the last minute rush for snow shovels, salt, and other winter essentials, but most importantly, be informed, and be prepared.”
MEMA and other state partners have gathered a number of winter preparedness and safety tips that will be shared throughout Maryland Winter Safety Week and the winter season through social media channels.
When cold weather hits, you should check on the welfare of family, friends and neighbors who are particularly vulnerable to cold, snow, and ice. This may include the elderly and those with access and functional needs.
Neighbors can play a role in keep each other safe by “knowing their neighbors” as well as “their neighbors’ phone numbers, especially elderly neighbors,” said Talbot County Department of Emergency Services Director Clay Stamp.
Build a home preparedness kit that includes winter supplies such as snow shovels, ice melting products, extra warm clothes and blankets, flashlights and batteries.
Follow a trusted weather source, such as the National Weather Service and local news media, to be aware of any predicted frozen precipitation or severe cold temperatures.
Sign up for Emergency Alerts in your area and determine how you will receive information if you are traveling out of town. Visit ready.gov/alerts for more information on emergency alert options.
Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out. Leave the heat on in your home and set the thermostat to no lower than 50 degrees if you will be going away during cold weather.
Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter travel. Check and winterize your vehicle, including all fluids, wiper blades, lights and systems before the winter season begins. Have a car emergency kit in your vehicle. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
Stamp also advises keeping a blanket and something colorful to attract attention in each motor vehicle.
Identify your pet with up-to-date name tags and rabies tags; include your cell phone number on the tag. Or, your pet can be microchipped. Most veterinarians or animal control agencies can scan the chip to help locate the owner.
“Now is the time for people to review winter weather checklists and to obtain supplies as we move into the coldest portion of the year,” said Talbot County Department of Emergency Services Director Clay B. Stamp.
“It is important during extreme cold periods to take the opportunity to keep a cell phone with you at all times so if necessary you can contact assistance or if you have an emergency you will be able to call 911,” Stamp said.
Elderly residents “need to have a simple device on them at all times,” Stamp said. He said that by carrying a cell phone, “you can always dial 911.”
“Seniors need to carry a cell phone with them all the time,” Stamp said. “In extended cold weather, something as simple as checking the mailbox — and slipping and falling in a remote area — can be dangerous.”
Among the several hazards that winter weather brings are the health risks posed by sustained exposure to extreme cold. It can lower body temperature, weakening the immune system and it can aggravate chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular and lung disease and mental illness, among others.
Thousands of people are also at risk indoors if their power has been shut off, or they do not have the financial means to increase the temperature in their home. For those with chronic diseases, a cold interior may be a dangerous environment.
Cases of carbon monoxide exposure peak during the winter, when people are more likely to use generators, stoves, and home heating systems that may not be properly maintained. If it is unsafe to run a gas lawnmower or a car in a given space, it is also unsafe to run a portable generator.
Stamp advised purchasing a battery back-up device that’s ready to charge a cell phone in the event of an extended power outage. Battery packs, ranging in price from $14 to $50, will keep cell phones charged, making it possible to dial 911 in an emergency, he said.
Additional information about winter preparedness can be found on www.mema.maryland.gov.