SIKESTON -- With the dog days of summer behind and several months before dangerously cold temperatures are here, it's easy to forget to stay prepared for the worst.
"There's not much of the hot, hot summer left," said Tom Bridger, emergency management coordinator, "but heat is something we still need to be aware of."
Infants and children up to 4 years old, those 65 years of age or older, those who are ill or overweight or who overexert during work or exercise are at the greatest risk of a heat-related illness.
Also, anyone taking medication should ask their doctor whether the medicine can affect the body's response to heat.
The heat that builds up in parked cars can still be dangerous so infants, children and pets should not be left inside them unattended.
Bridger advised residents to be aware of warning signs such as light-
headedness, mild nausea or confusion, sleepiness or profuse sweating.
There are several things that can prevent heat-related illness such as spending some time in an air-conditioned area, increasing fluid intake regardless of activity level -- don't wait until feeling thirsty -- and avoid caffeine and alcohol. Avoid very cold beverages, too, as they can cause stomach cramps.
Schedule outdoor activities before noon or later in the evening. When outdoors, rest frequently in shady areas and wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
Heat is not the only weather-related danger during this time of the year, according to Bridger.
"The summer months with the thunderstorms also create lightning issues," he said.
When outdoors, there are several safety tips to keep in mind.
If you hear thunder, you are too close -- seek shelter inside a building. Open areas are particularly dangerous as over 50 percent of all lightning strikes occur in open spaces such as fields, ballparks, soccer fields and golf courses.
If you hear thunder and your hair stands on end, suspend athletic activities and get inside an enclosed, sturdy building.
As water and metal conduct electricity, it is important to get out of water and stay away from metal sheds, dugouts and bleachers.
Lightning also strikes the tallest object, so stay away from trees and try to be the lowest point. Also stay several yards away from other people -- don't huddle in a group.
"At least for Sikeston, we're lucky in the fact we have very few flash floods," Bridger said. "Some of the streets will flood and get water in them up to curb height or higher."
Areas in town near drainage ditches, however, can see some flooding when heavy rains cause them to fill up past their banks, Bridger said. "When that does happen, it presents many problems for those residents."
Bridger said it is important to understand terms such as warnings and watches.
A storm watch or tornado watch, he explained, means conditions are favorable for the storm or tornado.
"A warning means something has been spotted," he said. That can mean either someone has seen it with their own eyes or it has appeared on radar.
"Those in the path of the storm or tornado should take immediate life-saving action," Bridger said.
Life-saving action in most cases means going into a safe room or room without windows, interior hallway or bathroom. "If you have a basement, you're definitely going to use your basement," Bridger said.
He said due to lessons learned from recent major disasters, residents should be prepared to be on their own for at least 72 hours following a major disaster.
"More realistically, be prepared to be on your own for seven to 10 days, especially in an earthquake," he said.
With the New Madrid Fault, there is always the risk of a major disaster no matter what time of year it is.
"You need to have a family disaster plan," Bridger said. "And of course, you have to implement that plan."
Part of the plan should include setting two places to rendezvous in the event of a major disaster. "That way if you get scattered and it's hard to find anyone, you have a place to meet at," Bridger said.
Area residents should also have a disaster supply kit with food, water, a change of clothing and footwear, sleeping bags and blankets, a first aid kit and battery-powered radios and flashlights.
Bridger said those with a computer and Internet access should visit the National Weather Service, American Red Cross, State Emergency Management Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency Web sites to review their emergency preparedness information.