KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – There are several types of disasters that Tennesseans have known through the decades of weather and infrastructure growth; the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency or TEMA lists some of the ways people can prepare.

Natural disasters are mostly weather-related including drought, earthquakes, extreme temperatures, flooding, severe weather, tornadoes and wildfires. However disasters can also be related to infrastructure including critical infrastructure, dam/levee failure, geologic, hazardous materials release; while other disasters listed by TEMA also include communicable diseases and terrorism.

All of these could potentially happen in Tennessee. Perhaps never simultaneously, but Volunteer State residents and visitors alike have experienced some form of disaster and emergency response either directly or indirectly.

Regardless, most if not all emergency management agencies have plans in place for the occurrence of disasters in Tennessee. The ReadyTN device application from TEMA notes some of the ways people can prepare for disasters – and what to do when they happen.

Here are some of the tips shared by TEMA about emergency preparedness for some disasters in Tennessee:


To prepare for a flood, TEMA says residents need to either know or do the following:

  • Know what type of flood risks are stated for your area
  • Watch for potential signs like heavy rainfall
  • Learn and practice escape or evacuation routes, shelter plans and flash flood response. Purchase or renew a flood insurance policy
  • Keep important documents in a waterproof container
  • Protect your property by moving all valuables to higher levels; declutter drains and gutters; install check valves or consider a battery-powered sump pump.

During a flood, it’s important to know what warnings are in place and where to go. TEMA says residents should do the following:

  • If under a flood warning – find a safe shelter immediately
  • Evacuate if told to do so
  • Move to higher ground or a higher floor
  • Do not walk, swim or dive through floodwaters
  • Turn Around, Don’t Drown!”
  • Stay off bridges over fast-moving or troubled water
  • If your vehicle gets trapped in fast-moving water, stay inside of it unless water is rising inside the vehicle – then seek refuge on the roof
  • If trapped in a building, go to the highest level
  • Do not climb into an enclosed attic; you could become trapped by rising floodwater

After a flood, TEMA says to do the following:

  • Return home only when authorities say it’s safe to do so
  • Avoid driving in flooded areas
  • Wear heavy gloves and boots for cleanup
  • Be aware of the risks for electrocution; do not touch electrical equipment if it’s wet or if you’re in standing water – turn off the electricity to prevent electric shock when it’s safe to do so
  • Avoid wading in floodwater, as it can contain dangerous debris or it could be contaminated; underground or downed powerlines can also charge the water with electricity
  • Use a generator or other gas-powered machinery ONLY outdoors and away from windows
  • Beware of snakes and other critters that may be in your home

Severe Weather

To prepare for severe weather, TEMA says residents need to either know or do the following:

  • Know your area’s risk for severe weather such as thunderstorms, lightning, and straight-line winds
  • Identify nearby sturdy buildings near where you live, work, attend school, etc. where you can take shelter
  • Cut down or trim trees that may be at risk of falling onto your home
  • Consider purchasing surge protectors, lightning rods, or a lightning protection system for your home appliances and electronic devices

During severe weather, TEMA says to protect yourself by doing the following:

  • “When thunder roars, go indoors.”
  • A sturdy building is the safest place to be during a thunderstorm
  • Pay attention to weather reports and warnings of thunderstorms, and other severe weather threats
  • When you receive a thunderstorm or severe weather warning, go inside immediately
  • If indoors, avoid running water or using landline telephones (if you still have one); electricity can travel through plumbing and phone lines
  • Unplug appliances or other electric devices
  • Secure outdoor furniture
  • If you’re out on the water either boating or swimming, get to land and find a sturdy, grounded shelter and DO NOT touch anything metal
  • Avoid flooded roadways – just 6″ of moving water can knock a person down and one foot of moving water can sweep a car away.

After the storm, TEMA says to do the following:

  • Listen to authorities and weather forecasts for information on whether it’s safe to go outside
  • Listen for instructions regarding potential flash flooding
  • Watch for fallen powerlines and trees
  • Report any fallen trees, powerlines, etc. and do not go near them

Dam/Levee Failure

To prepare for a dam or levee failure, TEMA says residents need to either know or do the following:

  • Be aware of flash flooding; move immediately to higher ground – don’t wait for instructions to move
  • Be aware of drainage channels and other areas known to flood suddenly
  • If asked to evacuate and if you have time, secure your home

During a dam or levee failure, TEMA says to do the following:

  • Do not walk or drive through moving water
  • If you must walk through water, use a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you
  • Do not venture into flooded areas
  • If floodwaters rise around your vehicle, abandon it and move to higher ground if you can do so safely

After a dam or levee failure, TEMA says to do the following:

  • Avoid floodwaters, which can be contaminated with oil, gasoline, or raw sewage
  • Water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed powerlines
  • Be cautious of areas where floodwaters have receded – roads may be weakened and can collapse
  • Stay away from downed powerlines – report them to the local power company
  • Stay out of buildings or structures surrounded by floodwaters
  • Service damaged septic tanks, cesspools, pits, and leaching systems as soon as possible
  • Clean and disinfect anything that got wet since it can contain sewage or other dangerous chemicals

Geologic: Landslides

TEMA says geologic hazards exist in all U.S. states and territories and are caused by a variety of factors – including human modification to land.

“Geologic hazards can occur quickly, often with little notice,” TEMA says. “The best way to prepare is to stay informed about changed in and around your home, workplace or other location that could signal a geologic issue.”

According to TEMA, landslide problems “can be caused by land mismanagement, particularly in mountain, canyon and coastal regions. Land-zoning, professional inspections, and proper design can minimize any landslide problems.”

TEMA recommends the following for landslides:

  • Prevent landslides by following proper landuse procedures: avoid building near steep slopes or close to mountain edges, or near drainage ways, or along nature erosion valleys
  • Be familiar with the land around you – research the area for any previous landslides
  • Get a ground assessment of your property and consult a professional for advice on appropriate preventative measures for your home or business
  • If you are near a landslide – move away from the path of a landslide as quickly as possible
  • Listen for unusual sounds that might indicate moving debris, such as trees cracking or boulders knocking together
  • If you are near a stream or channel, be alert for any sudden increase or decrease in water changes from clear to muddy
  • Curl into a tight ball and protect your head if escaping from a landslide it not possible.

The ReadyTN app also has other valuable information sources for disasters and emergencies. To learn more, visit the website.


To prepare for an earthquake, TEMA says residents should do the following:

  • Secure items that could topple or fall over during an earthquake; such as water heaters, televisions, book shelves, breakable objects on shelves, as well as pictures and mirrors on walls
  • Have an out-of-state contact in your emergency plan
  • Plan where to meet if your family is separated
  • Consider an earthquake insurance policy; standard homeowners insurance does not cover earthquake damage
  • Consider retro-fitting your home, building, or other structure to make it less vulnerable to collapse during an earthquake

During an earthquake, TEMA recommends doing the following:

  • “Drop, Cover, and Hold On” – to protect yourself during an earthquake: Drop to your hands and knees; Cover you head and neck with your arms; Hold On to any sturdy furniture until the shaking stops
  • If in bed, stay there and cover your head and neck with a pillow
  • If inside, stay there until the shaking stops – DO NOT run outside
  • If in a vehicle, stop in a clear area that is away from buildings, trees, overpasses, underpasses, or utility wires
  • If you are in a high-rise, expect fire alarms and sprinklers to go off; do not use elevators
  • If near slopes, cliffs, or mountains, be alert for falling rocks and landslides.

After an earthquake, TEMA advises the following:

  • Expect aftershocks to follow the largest shock of the earthquake
  • Check yourself for injuries and provide assistance to others if you have training
  • If you’re in a damaged building, go outside and quickly move away from it
  • Do not enter damaged buildings
  • If you are trapped, cover your mouth. Instead, send a text, bang a pipe or wall, or use a whistle instead of shouting so that rescuers can locate you
  • Save phone calls for emergencies
  • Use extreme caution during post-disaster cleanup of buildings and debris
  • Do not remove any heavy debris by yourself
  • Wear protective clothing and thick-soled shoes during the cleanup process.


The first thing to remember about wildfires is to learn or know any warnings and bans on outdoor burning in your area; also, between October and mid-May, anyone in Tennessee starting an open-air fire within 500 feet of a forest, grassland, or woodland must secure a permit from the Division of Forestry, according to TEMA.

Local authorities or jurisdictions may have other ordinances and permitting systems in place for open-air burning, so stay up to date on that information.

TEMA also shared the following tips for wildfires –  preparation, during and after:

Prepare for wildfire

  • Know your community’s evacuation plans and find several ways to leave the area
  • Drive evacuation routes and find shelter locations
  • Have a plan for pets and livestock
  • If your community has a local warning system, sign up for it
  • Include N95 respirator masks in your emergency supplies to filter out any particles in the air
  • Set up a portable air cleaner to keep indoor pollution levels low when smoky conditions arise
  • Designate a room that can be closed off from outside air
  • Keep important documents in a fireproof, safe place

During a wildfire

  • Evacuate immediately when authorities tell you to do so
  • If trapped by a wildfire, call 911 and give your location, but be aware emergency response could be delayed or impossible
  • Monitor local broadcasts for information and instructions
  • Use a N95 mask to keep harmful particles out of the air you breathe
  • If you are not ordered to evacuate but smoky conditions exist, stay inside a safe location or go to a community building where smoke levels are lower

After a wildfire

  • Follow the instructions of authorities as to when it’s safe to return home and whether water is safe to drink
  • Avoid hot ash, charred trees, smoldering debris or live embers
  • Send text messages, or use social media to reach out to family and friends
  • Wear  NIOSH certified respirator dust mask and wet debris down to minimize dust particles
  • Document property damage with photographs
  • Take an inventory of any property damage and contact your insurance company for assistance

Of note, TEMA says wildfires change the landscape and can increase the risk of flooding from heavy rains later.