The images from the recent tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, are testament to the destructive force of a tornado. But this threat is compounded by the speed of onset and unpredictable path of tornadoes. By the time people started hearing talk of a lethal “debris ball” hurtling through town, most say they had 10-15 minutes to take cover. The sudden nature of this type of disaster calls for more vigilant preparedness.
Here are five tips for tornado preparedness:
1. Prepare the family
Before you hear the sirens or see the sky darken, you need to come up with an emergency plan that the whole family can learn. Make sure that children know what to do when a tornado strikes, and who to call in case an emergency occurs when you’re not around. Train them in the use of any emergency supplies including first aid. Give them a list of emergency contact numbers should they be unable to get home before the storm hits. Equip family members with personal cell phones or locator devices. Select a location where you can all regroup after the danger has passed, in case you become separated before or during the tornado. Show them where nearby evacuation centers are located and take them inside to become more familiar. As children become better prepared, they’re less likely to panic.
2. Prepare a lightweight emergency kit
A well-stocked emergency kit should have everything that you might need to sustain your family for at least 72 hours. It should contain bottled drinking water (the average person needs at least three liters of water per day, so plan accordingly), and some form of ready-to-eat food. The food should be nutritious and high in protein. Try to avoid storing any food in your emergency kit that requires cooking, refrigeration, or re-hydration. If you have a more well-stocked food storage system in your home, then these types of foods can be kept there and used during an emergency; however, the emergency kit should be lightweight and portable, so try to include only the easiest to prepare foods. The kit should also contain first aid supplies, toiletries, clean clothing, bedding, a portable radio, flashlights, batteries, medications, signaling devices (such as flares and air horns), extra cash, and copies of any important documents you don’t want to lose. For more ideas, visit Eartheasy’s Emergency Preparedness category, and Ready.gov’s supplies listing.
3. Tornado-proof your home
Although the images from the Moore tornado show complete destruction of homes, many residents survived in their homes thanks to storm shelters, protected niches, and good survival sense. While homes seem hopelessly vulnerable to tornadoes, preparedness measures can help protect residents and pets to some degree.
Moore Mayor Glenn Lewis has proposed a city ordinance that would require all new homes in Moore to have storm shelters after the EF-5 tornado hit the town on May 20. Although that is his goal, he acknowledged that realistically, city officials may be able to require the shelters only in new assisted living centers and apartment complexes because of costs.
A little more than 3,000 residential storm shelters were registered in Moore, a city of about 56,000 that had been hit by large tornadoes before, said community development director Elizabeth Jones.
Residential storm shelters and safe rooms are the ideal for those who can afford the costs of construction. If possible, design and build a below ground shelter that your family can escape to when tornado warnings first begin. If that isn’t a possibility, a basement or cellar should be your next choice. The best shelters are one’s with no windows, and have thick enough walls to withstand impacts from flying debris. The rooms should also be flood proof, as heavy rains may accompany the storm.
If you don’t have a basement, try to wait out the storm in a small, interior room such as bathroom, or even a large closet; try to put as many walls between you and the storm as possible. Your emergency kit should already be located in whatever room you’re using for shelter. Stay away from windows, doorways and exterior walls.
Be sure that your family members know how to shut down your water or gas mains, including propane appliances, as they may become damaged and hazardous during and after a tornado.
Store important family documents safe box located in the safe room. Copies of documents can be stored elsewhere, such as bank safety deposit boxes or with family living in other areas.
4. Stay informed
A large portion of your preparation can be done well ahead of time. However, some things need to wait until a storm is on its way. For these, it always helps to keep a close eye on the local tornado warning system. If it seems like a storm might be getting ready to occur, turn on the radio and television and listen for the emergency broadcast. If you can get an NOAA Weather Radio, then you’ll be that much more likely to get the warning you need.
Keeping in touch locally with friends, family and co-workers across the community also builds a network of instant communication. In the Moore tornado, many people were forewarned by cell phone calls from friends who sighted or heard of the “debris ball” headed their way. For those living in tornado-prone regions, it’s advisable to stay connected by leaving phones on and setting up speed dials to more quickly alert family and friends.
Write down and share with family a “phone tree”, which is a list of who to phone in an emergency situation. Each person on the list shares responsibility for passing on information. It can be difficult to think clearly in a crisis, so a phone tree help you remember who to contact and to know who will be contact you.
5. Know what to watch for
Certain weather conditions can be used to predict a possible tornado. Any of the following warning signs may indicate the onset of a tornado:
- Dark, greenish, or orange skies
- A quickly rotating cloud cover
- A persistent roar like drawn out thunder
- Large hail, often in the absence of rain
- The wind may suddenly die down and the air become still
- Swirling debris, even without a tornado funnel
- Flashes of light in the distance, indicating damaged power lines
If you have even the slightest indication that a tornado might make an appearance, then get your supplies together and seek shelter; it’s better to get everything prepared and not need it, than to wait and get caught off guard.