Tornado Safety

Wow, what a night!  Tornados swept through the Midwest last night heavily effecting parts of Kansas, Missouri (including the music resort city of Branson), and Illinois.  Because the news media has done a good job covering the stories today, I’m not going into the post-incident details here.  But, there are a couple of things I want to mention as preparedness reminders now that we are in tornado season:

  • A tornado WARNING is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely.  A warning means weather conditions pose a threat to life or property.  People in the path of the storm need to take protective action.
  • A tornado WATCH is issued when the risk of a hazardous weather or hydrologic event has increased significantly, but its occurrence, location or timing is still uncertain.  It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so.  A watch means that hazardous weather is possible.  People should have a plan of action in case a storm threatens and they should listen for later information and possible warnings especially when planning travel or outdoor activities.
  • An ADVISORY is issued when a hazardous weather or hydrologic event is occurring, imminent or likely.  Advisories are for less serious conditions than warnings that cause significant inconvenience and if caution is not exercised, could lead to situations that may threaten life or property.

Preparing for a tornado

Here are four things everyone can do to prepare for a tornado that may affect your area:

  1. Know the risk for tornadoes in your area.  Although tornadoes have been reported throughout the United States, some areas are clearly at higher risk than others.
  2. Identify potential shelter areas where family members can gather during a tornado.  The best shelter from a tornado is to be underground.
    If an underground shelter or tornado-safe room is not available, move to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture.  The idea is to get as many walls and roofs between you and the outside as possible.  Avoid rooms with large free-span roofs.
    Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned in favor of more substantial shelter.
  3. Learn the community’s warning system.  Many areas use Emergency Alert System (EAS) to warn of imminent hazards.  Within these areas, though, communities may have other warning systems for tornadoes, including sirens that are also used to signal fires and other hazards.  For those who live in communities that use sirens, it is critical to learn the siren warning tone to ensure recognition.  Also, when severe weather threatens, NOAA weather radio carries current information and instructions.
  4. Conduct periodic tornado drills with the family to ensure that all family members know what to do and where to go during a tornado emergency.

During a Tornado

Here’s what you should do if you are caught in a tornado:

  • Damage often occurs when wind gets inside a home.  Keep all windows and doors closed.  Houses do not explode because of air pressure differences.
  • Go immediately to an underground shelter or tornado-safe room, or interior room or hallway on the lowest floor.
  • Put as much shielding material (such as furniture, blankets, bike helmets, etc.) as you can around you.
  • Listen to EAS or NOAA Weather Radio for current emergency information and instructions.
  • If you are driving and see a tornado go to a nearby sturdy building and seek an area on the lowest level, without windows.  If there are no buildings nearby, get out and away from the vehicle and lie down in a low spot on the ground.  Protect the head and neck.

Following a tornado

Once the tornado has passed you should continue listening to EAS or NOAA weather radio for updated information and instructions.  As with many other hazards, post-tornado actions include:

  • Avoid fallen power lines or broken utility lines and immediately report those you see
  • Stay out of damaged areas until told that it is safe to enter
  • Stay out of damaged buildings
  • Use  a flashlight to look for damage and fire hazards and document damage for insurance purposes
  • Turn off utilities, if necessary
  • Reserve the telephone for emergencies

Take a CERT class

And let me leave you with this.  If you haven’t yet completed FEMA’s Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, what are you waiting for?  It’s the best preparedness training around.  In many areas it’s free and in those areas that may charge for it, the cost is nominal.  Visit the Citizen Corps/CERT website to learn more and then PLEASE go take the training …. for yourself and your family.  You will thank me afterwards.  Call your local police or fire department or your local emergency management agency to see when the next class in your area meets.  If you can’t find a class, or your business would like its own class, contact me.

Getting Prepared In a Year

Well, with my recent travel to Hawaii, I inadvertently missed a step in our journey to becoming prepared this year.  I hope you will consider it a minor detour.  We are back on the road and our journey continues with our fourth destination on our journey to becoming prepared this year.

When you are at the hardware store, I want you to pick-up the following items:

  • Plumber’s tape which is really a type of strapping.  Don’t get this confused with “Teflon tape”.  Get the one that is a flexible metal strip with a regular series of holes running the length of the “tape.” It is generally used to provide mechanical support for piping.  You’ll use this in the “To Do” that follows.
  • A crowbar
  • (If your home needs either or both)  A smoke detector and a CO detector.  Don’t forget the batteries!

From your doctor or pharmacist, get the following:

  • You will want to get any extra medications you may need or a prescription marked “Emergency Use” if needed.

Things to Do:

  • Use the Plumber’s tape (strapping) from above to tie your water heater to nearby wall studs.  FEMA provides some good information on this, along with other earthquake related material at “Protecting Against Earthquake Damage”
  • Install your new smoke and CO detectors or test the ones currently in place.
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