Tornado Drill!

April 11, 2005
Spring weather normally ushers in a fresh breeze, colorful flowers and pleasant temperatures. But the weather can turn dangerous during this transitional season as warm and cold air masses collide.

Spring weather normally ushers in a fresh breeze, colorful flowers and pleasant temperatures. But the weather can turn dangerous during this transitional season as warm and cold air masses collide. Severe thunderstorms with damaging winds, violent tornadoes and deadly lightning can develop quickly and strike with great force. Before the clouds begin to darken, take time now to prepare.

Start by having a meeting to evaluate your severe weather plan. Make sure that everyone is familiar with the plan components and the locations of severe weather safe areas. Review safety policies and procedures. The following recommendations can be utilized when reviewing and modifying your severe weather plan:

  • Wind driven debris represents the greatest danger from damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes. Severe weather safe areas should be located on the lowest level of a sturdy structure away from exterior walls and windows. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Interior closets, bathrooms and hallways often are used as safe areas. However, avoid large roof span areas like gymnasiums, auditoriums, cafeterias and the like.
Vehicles and mobile homes afford virtually no protection from damaging thunderstorm and tornadic winds. Leave the vehicle or mobile home and seek shelter in a sturdy structure as outlined above. If no shelter is available, lie flat on the ground in a low area (like a side ditch or depression) and protect your head. Be alert for flash flooding and lightning hazards. Lightning can strike literally out of the blue. If you hear thunder, seek shelter immediately in a sturdy, fully enclosed structure away from windows. During a thunderstorm, stay off the phone and out of the shower or bath. Do not operate electrical equipment. If caught outdoors without shelter, a fully enclosed metal vehicle will provide safe refuge. Wait at least 30 minutes from the last clap of thunder before resuming any outside activities.

Once you have reviewed your plan, test it to make sure that it works. Many agencies conduct an annual Tornado Drill to evaluate their severe weather plan during their local or state severe weather awareness week. Remember to incorporate any necessary modifications to your plan based on the results of your drill. And if you make any changes to your severe weather plan, make certain that you review them with everyone.

In addition to your severe weather plan, always have a Plan B as a back up to the primary plan. Severe weather can strike with little or no warning, and therefore, you may not always have the time to implement your plan. The best course of action is to stay abreast of changing weather condition to allow yourself time to react effectively.

Spring storms can develop quickly, so monitor weather conditions often. An excellent resource is a NOAA Weather Alert Radio. This specially designed radio broadcasts weather forecasts and conditions at the touch of a button, and will activate when the National Weather Service (NWS) issues severe weather watches and warnings. I like to think of these devices as "smoke detectors for the weather" and encourage everyone to have a weather alert radio at home and at work.

When severe weather is possible, the NWS will issue a Watch. This means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather in and close to the watch area. Everyone should be prepared to implement the severe weather plan should it become necessary. When severe weather is imminent or occurring, the NWS will issue a Warning. At this time the severe weather plan should be activated. Remember, severe weather can strike with little or no warning. If severe weather threatens, take immediate action to protect life safety.

Emergency service agencies should have severe weather plans in place to protect responders during severe weather events, both in quarters and on the emergency scene. These plans should be reviewed with all personnel at least once a year. Assure that facilities have designated severe weather safe areas and are equipped with NOAA Weather Alert Radios. And be sure that the Communications Center is prepared and trained to provide weather information to the crews operating on the emergency scene.

With severe weather season upon us, now is the time to conduct your own Tornado Drill. Review and test your severe weather plans for home and work. Make sure provisions are in place within your emergency service agency and that you have reviewed the applicable policies and procedures. Your families and your communities depend on you being prepared!

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