Recently, the US has been ravaged by spring storms, some of which spawned deadly tornadoes. These monster storms flattened homes, caused millions of dollars in damage, and left dozens of people dead or seriously injured. Some of those in the affected areas had little or no warning. Severe weather preparedness and awareness is crucial for everyone, but particularly for those who live in areas prone to these types of storms. Not every home will be equipped with a storm shelter or safe room, so other precautions will need to be taken to ride out the storm. Having a disaster plan in place before the storm hits is vital. Here are some tips to help you and your family stay safe in the event of a tornado.
First, pay attention to weather reports. With the advancement of technology, often storm spotters and weather prediction centers can warn individuals down to a certain street of an approaching storm. Often tornadoes can spawn without much notice, so taking heed of advance watches might help to save your life. All watches and warnings are issued with public safety in mind, and they should be taken seriously. Remember a tornado watch means conditions are ripe for tornadoes to occur, but a warning means one has actually been spotted. Many local weather stations offer text alerts at no charge, and will automatically send a text message when a severe weather watch or warning is issued for your area. You should also invest in a portable weather radio. These can be programmed to sound when alerts are issued for your city or county, and will run off battery power, something that is crucial should the electricity go out.
Second, you should have a plan in place to take shelter. Know where you’ll go to stay safe at home. Work with your family to come up with a tornado safety plan. Find the safest spot in your home and be prepared to gather there at a moment’s notice. If you don’t have a basement, choose a location on the lowest floor away from windows and doors. Pack an emergency bag with flashlights, a weather radio, extra batteries, water bottles, and a mini first aid kit. You might consider having members of your family to wear their bike helmets, which could help to prevent head injury from debris. If you live in a mobile home, you will want to seek alternate shelter, either with neighbors or family, or at a community safe room. Staying calm is key in these situations. Often children or pets will take their cues from you. If you are freaking out and on edge, they will be, too. If you can stay calm, and remember your plan, it will help everyone else to stay calm too.
You should also know where to go if you’re not at home. Schools have severe weather drills and will guide students to take shelter. Your workplace should also have a severe weather plan. If you are out on the road, you will want to get out of your vehicle and seek shelter in a secure building. If that is not an option, park in the lowest area you can find, get lower than the glass, and cover your head with your arms. You do not want to park under a bridge or overpass – this can be a danger zone for flying objects or debris. If you are outdoors, find a low-lying spot and lie face down with your arms covering your head.
Once the storm has passed, you will need to use extreme care when exiting your shelter. There could be downed power lines, fallen trees, or broken gas lines. If the storm happens at night, it will be difficult to see, particularly if the power is out so you’ll need to use a flashlight to help navigate. Listen to the radio to find out when it might be safe to venture out. Watch for police and fire department presence in the area to help you get through the streets safely and return to your residence if you left due to the approaching storm. Most likely emergency management officials will be on the ground as soon as possible to help assist residents after the storm is over.
In recent years, many towns have started to build “safe rooms” for people who do not have adequate shelter at their residences. These steel and concrete reinforced rooms can withstand up to an EF5 storm in some cases. These rooms might be located in a school, community center, or other public location, and are available to all members of the community. No doubt these safe rooms have saved countless lives.
If you do live in an area to where strong storms and tornadoes occur frequently, you may consider putting in a storm shelter or safe room of your own. These can be underground, or a freestanding safe room in a garage or as a room in a basement. While they may be costly, if you live far enough from a community safe room, your own safe room could help you to make it out alive.
The most important thing to remember is that preparation can save lives. Go over your severe weather plan each spring with your family and reinforce safe spots and how to protect your head in a storm. Make sure each person in your home knows where the emergency supplies are, and how to reach emergency personnel if needed. Storm safety should be reinforced year round, as these storms can pop up at other times of the year too.
Does your family have a plan in place to take shelter during a tornado?