Preparedness: The Six Keys to Safety
The US has
more tornadoes than any other area on the globe. We get them in the spring, as
weather changes in the fall, when summer storms hit, and as byproducts of
hurricanes. Though the Midwest is known as “tornado alley,” there’s really no
place in the country that’s immune. Add to this the fact that hurricanes and
severe thunderstorms can produce directional winds nearly as destructive as the
vortex of a twister, and it’s easy to see that we need additional preparedness
info beyond “duck and cover.”
going to cover the six main areas of tornado preparedness that will help you
before, during, and after a tornado or heavy storm strikes. Appropriately,
we’ll use the acronym S.T.O.R.M.S.:
Shelter – Strengthen your home and know
where to find expedient shelter.
Time – Increase your chances of getting the
Others – Safety and protection involves the
whole family and communicating with others.
Resources – You’ll need everything from
immediate supply to good insurance.
Medical – Help yourself now to save the
Sweeping Up – Tips and tricks for
dealing with the aftermath.
Severe storms with driving rain, possible hail, and
projectiles hurled by strong winds offer extreme dangers from which we need to
protect ourselves. The best protection would be a steel-reinforced
concrete safe room located in the basement of a structurally sound building.
Lacking that, let’s look at a few things you should do now:
Reinforce your house. There are simple
things we can do to greatly strengthen our homes. Ask your local
home-supply store rep about angle brackets, strapping, and techniques to
install them to make your roof, walls, doors, and connection to the
foundation stronger. Also, do an internet search for “hurricane retrofit”
(including quotes) to find additional instruction. One such source is from
the Institute for Business and Home Safety at
Hint: You can greatly strengthen your doors by using
longer screws to hold your hinges and strike plates in place. Not only does
this keep the wind from blowing your doors open, but it helps against the
average intruder as well.
Create a safe room or area within your home.
The general rule of thumb is to pick an area near the center of your house
and below ground if possible or at least on the lowest floor. Consider
Turn your walk-in closet into a safe area. Remove the sheetrock
from walls and ceiling, add extra wall studs held in place with screws,
strapping, and angle brackets, and then replace the sheetrock with one or two
layers of ¾” marine plywood held in place with structural adhesive and screws.
Finish and paint the walls and you’ll never know it was retrofitted.
For some online sources of “safe-room construction” do an internet
search or see:
National Hurricane Center
The "Blue Sky Foundation" has
some good info at
If you live in a mobile home, your best bet
for safety would be a storm cellar. One simple and relatively inexpensive way
to make a storm cellar is to have a septic tank company install a clean new unit
in your yard, but leave about a foot above the ground. You can build a strong
cover over that and use it as an outdoor deck, or as the foundation for a
Some locations might reimburse you for building a safe room.
Check with your tax assessor, county extension office, insurance provider,
insurance commissioner, or local emergency management office.
Learn the “safe points.” When a tornado
strikes you might be at home, but it’s more likely you’ll be at work, out
running errands, or on a trip. Learn to recognize all the locations that
will provide protection. Does the building you’re in have shelters? For
example, in the Denver Airport, the restrooms are designated tornado
shelters. Does the building have a basement? Are you on the road? How far
are you from a known safe building, or from a deep ditch?
In emergencies, our most important asset is time. The two
best ways to gain extra time in weather emergencies are to prepare now, and to
get as early a warning as possible that severe weather is heading your way. If
you wait for your community’s alert sirens, you’ve waited too long.
Buy an NOAA Weather Alert Radio. Not only do
they warn you of inclement weather, but the system is now being tied in to
the regular EAS system to warn you of other emergencies.
Sign up for an alternate alert service
such as the Weather Channel’s at
www.weather.com/notify, or the Emergency Email &
Wireless Network at
http://www.emergencye.com. Hint: When you
get the warning, take action! Don’t do dumb things like videotaping the
Learn the indicators of severe
weather. The Weather Channel and others such as the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration at
http://www.noaa.gov, have educational information
that will teach you how to spot incoming severe weather. Some “symptoms”
A large anvil-shaped thunderhead cloud or a thick, very dark,
cloud cover with a pea-soup consistency.
Hail or, in some cases, unseasonable snow.
Green lightning (as lightning flashes behind clouds heavily laden
A sudden change in humidity, wind direction or wind speed, rain
volume, or rain direction.
A sudden change in air pressure (your ears may pop).
Network with others. Sometimes our friends
and coworkers are our best early warning system. Develop a phone tree or at
least a general agreement among friends and relatives that you’ll warn each
other about dangers in the area.
There are two sets of “others” you might deal with in
concert with a severe storm. One is your family and the other is first
responders. Communicate with your family both now – to prepare for a tornado –
and later in the event a tornado watch or warning is given. You also may need
to communicate with first responders if you experience injury or certain types
of property damage that requires official assistance. Consider:
Tornado drills. Emergency reactions are
worth practicing. Have your family practice getting into the safe room and
into a safe position (“duck and cover”) within 30 seconds or less.
Protect your pets. On warning of severe
weather, round up your pets, put them on leads or in carriers, and take them
to your safe area. If your house is damaged in the storm your pets are more
protected and easier to care for afterward. Hint: You can train your pets
to head to the safe room on command. Your vet can give you some training
Communication and signaling may be vitally
important if your home is damaged and/or someone sustains injury during a
tornado. For example, though everyone might be uninjured, you may be
trapped in the debris that was once your home and need someone to dig you
out. In addition to your house phone and cell phone, have backup options
like a hand-held two-way radio, and something that can make a loud noise
such as an air-horn or whistle. Also, make sure your neighbors know you
have a safe room in the house, or storm cellar in your yard. They can tell
authorities where to look if no one has heard from you.
http://www.nationalsos.com for networking information regarding your
hand-held two-way radio.
http://www.arrl.org to learn more about the world of Ham Radio Operators and
how they help.
Note: Do not use anything
flame-producing to signal with. This includes flares, candles, etc.
In a disaster, you’ll need goods, gear, or services to
help you deal with the event and then recover afterward. Make sure you have
adequately covered each of the following areas:
Make sure your insurance policy covers all
types of natural disaster including water damage from rain or flood since
many policies have strict exclusions. Also, make sure your policy will
provide for the costs of temporary lodging and the full replacement value
for your property and possessions.
Document all your possessions by taking
photos and videos, list everything you own, and keep important receipts in
your safe deposit box.
Keep your isolation and evacuation supplies
together in a protected spot where you can access them immediately, or where
they’ll be protected if your home is damaged while you’re away.
Make a list of services you might need after
a tornado, such as cleanup and repair services or temporary lodging. Look
through your phone book to find services like tree-cutting and debris
removal, structural home repairs, automotive repairs, lodging, etc. Write
their contact information down and keep it with your emergency kits so you
can call these services immediately after a disaster to get your name on
We’re hoping that all the advice above has kept you safe
in the event of a tornado. However, we know things do happen and people get
hurt. Cover the following, just in case:
First aid training is important for every
family regardless of the threat, so learn the basics of general first aid
and CPR. Next, talk with your doctor about first aid measures for specific
ailments. For example, if someone in your family has Asthma and they have
an attack, what are some things you can do to care for them if you can’t
immediately get to their inhaler or medication?
First aid kits are a must and families should
have several and not just one. The main kit should be kept in the home, but
smaller kits should be kept in each automobile and at your workplace.
Copies of medical information should be kept
at home. After a destructive event there’s no guarantee your family doctor
will be available or that the hospital’s computers will be functional. In
case of injury, medical practitioners will need to know a general medical
history of the injured. Keep a list of ailments, conditions, special
medical needs, and current medications of each family member (including
pets). Remember, even though you’re the head of household and you know all
that information, you may be injured and unable to communicate.
All destructive events have at least one thing in common;
they’re going to create quite a mess. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe
while cleaning up:
Though you might think the power is
completely out, stay away from downed power lines.
Stay alert to the hissing sound of a broken
gas line or the smell of gas.
Dress for the weather, but still dress to
protect. Wear sturdy shoes or boots (and watch out for boards with nails,
broken glass, etc.), a hat and sunscreen, insect repellant, and heavy work
gloves. The hospitals will be too full of major injuries to deal with the
minor injuries you could have prevented.
Physical labor after a stressful event can be
quite taxing. Drink plenty of fluids, eat regularly, and take periodic
Here is where you’d need your list of
professional cleanup services. Call as soon as possible.
In the case of total destruction, your
property itself will be a trash pile. Therefore, use your main trashcan as
a receptacle for the items you want to salvage. Label it accordingly so no
one throws away its contents. Hint: Take photographs or video of all the
damage for insurance purposes.
It’s possible that your valued possessions
might be strewn about the neighborhood. It’ll be easier to have things
returned if your name is written or engraved on them. If you don’t want to
use your name, use a unique identifier such as the first phone number you
can remember from childhood. Hint: Never use your Social Security Number
or other sensitive info.
Though this article is longer than average, there is still
no way we can pass along all the helpful hints and tips that will keep you safe
in an emergency and help you recover afterward. Do what you can with the
information presented, and continue your education on your own. The steps you
take to protect yourself against tornadoes will help protect you and yours
during any number of other disaster preparedness scenarios. Stay safe!
About the author: Paul Purcell
is an Atlanta-based security analyst and preparedness consultant with over
twenty years risk management and preparedness experience. He’s also the author
of Disaster Prep 101 found at
www.disasterprep101.com. Copyright 2005 - 2012, Paul Purcell.
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