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Tornado Preparedness and Response

Tornado planning, preparation and response can save your life.I live in tornado valley.  Or at least when I was growing up it used to be.  Things have calmed down a bit since my childhood, at least comparatively speaking.  But we still have tornados so my family and I are very familiar with the tornado preparedness and response.  However, you may not have had to worry about tornados before.  Either you just moved to an area that is vulnerable to such storms, you may experience a rare storm event, or your family or spouse took care of planning and response.  It is important for you to be informed.  Even if you family or spouse is still around, the day may come when you need to be prepared yourself.  So here are some helpful tips for preparing for and responding to a tornado.

Preparing for a Tornado

Prior to tornado season, typically when warm weather turn cold or cold weather turns warm, be sure to do the following things.

  • Develop a tornado emergency plan of where and how to seek shelter and an exit plan.  It is best to have a secondary plan in the event an exit route becomes impassable.
  • Mark where your first-aid kit and fire extinguishers are located.
  • Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so they can be turned off, if time permits, in an emergency.
  • Know how and when to turn off water and gas.

Put together a tornado survival kit and Put all of the objects into a container and place in the shelter/closet/safe room where you go during tornado warning.

    • Medium-sized, moisture proof, container with two small blankets.
    • A whistle for use in notifying response units of your location if you are trapped
    • A permanent marker for writing your name on your skin in the event your are unconscious and emergency response need to identify victims
    • A small radio, self-powered radio (preferred) or  battery powered
    • A flashlight, self-powered radio (preferred) or  battery powered
    • A medium sized pack of batteries of various sizes
    • Canned food or power bars
    • A hand-powered can opener – if you have arthritis be sure to store one designed for your special need
    • A few small plastic dishes and silverware
    • A fully powered cell phone and self-powered recharger – be sure you add to the kit when storms are in the area
    • A few water bottles
    • A first aid kit (Band-Aids, cloth, ect.)
    • Money (preferably small bills)
    • A car charger for your cell phone
    • Medicines – have your prescription pills consolidated so they can be easily added to your survival kit
    • A spare set of keys to your vehicle and home
    • A extra change on clothes for each person
    • Anything you may need for pets (food, medication, litter)
    • A multipurpose/knife
    • Glowsticks – safe than candles which are a fire hazard.
    • Battery or self-powered lantern

It is not a bad idea to have a small generator on hand.  A tornado destroyed a number of power stations in our area and most of the city was without electricity for almost a week.

Store critical documents safely in the (interior) shelter, along with a recent copy of one of your utility bills. If your neighborhood is wiped out, you’ll need to prove to authorities that you live there.   Write down:

  • Important telephone numbers, such as emergency (police and fire), paramedics, and medical centers
  • The name, addresses, and telephone numbers of your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers
  • Telephone numbers of the electric, gas, and water companies
  • Name and telephone numbers of neighbors
  • Name and telephone number of your landlord or property manager
  • Important medical information (for example, allergies, regular medications, and brief medical history)
  • Year, model, license, and identification numbers of your vehicles (automobiles, boats, and RVs)
  • Bank’s or credit union’s telephone number, and your account numbers

If you have special needs, write down your specific needs, limitations, capabilities, and medications. Keep this list on your person or in a purse.  Find someone nearby who agrees to assist you in case of an emergency. Give them a copy of your list.  Make a spare key to your home available to them if the person does not live with you.

Once tornado season arrives, pay close attention to weather conditions daily.  Because tornadoes often accompany thunderstorms, pay close attention to changing weather conditions when there is a severe thunderstorm watch or warning.  Some tornadoes strike rapidly, without time for a tornado warning, and sometimes without a thunderstorm in the vicinity. When you are watching for rapidly emerging tornadoes, it is important to know that you cannot depend on seeing a funnel: clouds or rain may block your view. The following weather signs may mean that a tornado is approaching:

  • A dark or green-colored sky
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud
  • Large hail
  • A loud roar that sounds like a freight train

If you notice any of these weather conditions, take cover immediately, and keep tuned to local radio and TV stations or to a NOAA weather radio.

First and foremost, stay tuned to your local tv or radio station for storm watches and warnings.  When there are thunderstorms in your area, turn on your radio or TV to get the latest emergency information from local authorities.  You could lose power at any moment so have a battery powered radio on hand.  A weather radio is a wonderful alarm tool, especially in the evening hours when you are asleep, but will not have the detailed information on the tornado path.  It is recommended to have both and not one or the other.  I would suggest a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio that can be programmed for your immediate area.  Otherwise, you will be getting alarms throughout a large region.  The last thing you want to do is turn off the alarm because you are tired of hearing the unit sound for areas outside of your danger zone.  If needed, get a friend, family member, or local radio or tv station help center to program your unit.  NOAA weather radios are the best way to receive warnings from the National Weather Service. These radios provide continuous updates on all the weather conditions in your area. The range of these radios depends on where you live, but the average range is 40 miles.

Some areas, especially those more vulnerable to tornado generating storms, have public warning systems.  These stations are a powerful means of notifying the public of a potential or verified tornado.  But they may not be heart from all homesteads or during the night.  So once again, do not rely on a single warning system.

When weather conditions are expected to degrade or degrade unexpectedly, authorities will send out the relevant watch or warning notice.  Be sure you know how to distinguish between warnings for a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

A tornado watch is issued when weather conditions favor the formation of tornadoes, for example, during a severe thunderstorm.

During a Tornado Watch

  • Stay tuned to local radio and TV stations or weather radio for further weather information.  Use battery powered units in the event utilities are lost.
  • When power is still available, watch the weather and be prepared to take shelter immediately if conditions worsen.

During a Tornado Warning

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado funnel is sighted or indicated by weather radar.  However, there is not guarantee that a warning will be sent in time for a response.  The initial site of a funnel may be at your front door!  So if you see a funnel cloud nearby, take shelter immediately.  There is no need to wait for a formal warning notice.  Even if the path of the tornado does not appear to put you in imminent danger, the funnels can take sudden and dramatic change of direction without notice.

At Home

  • Pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill.
  • The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement. If there is no basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet.
  • For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available–even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects, such as pianos or refrigerators, on the area of floor that is directly above you. They could fall though the floor if the tornado strikes your house.

Shelter for People with Special Needs

  • Advance planning is especially important if you require assistance to reach shelter from an approaching storm.
  • If you are in a wheelchair, get away from windows and go to an interior room of the house. If possible, seek shelter under a sturdy table or desk. Do cover your head with anything available, even your hands.
  • If you are unable to move from a bed or a chair and assistance is not available, protect yourself from falling objects by covering up with blankets and pillows.
  • If you are outside and a tornado is approaching, get into a ditch or gully. If possible, lie flat and cover your head with your arms.

In a Mobile Home

  • DO NOT STAY IN A MOBILE HOME DURING A TORNADO. Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds very easily. This is true whether the mobile home has a tie-down system or not.  The strength of tornado winds is simply too strong.
  • If you live in a mobile home, have a plan to go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.
  • If you live in a tornado-prone area and will or already live in a mobile home community, encourage your mobile home community, or in conjunction with other nearby communities, to build a neighborhood tornado shelter.

On the Road

  • The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds.
  • DO NOT TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO IN YOUR CAR. If you see a tornado, stop your vehicle. Do not get under your vehicle.


  • Avoid areas with many trees.
  • Protect your head with an object or with your arms.

Long-Span Buildings

A long-span building, such as a shopping mall, theater, or gymnasium, is especially dangerous because the roof structure is usually supported solely by the outside walls. Most such buildings hit by tornados cannot withstand the enormous pressure. They simply collapse.

  • If you are in a long-span building during a tornado, stay away from windows. Get to the lowest level of the building–the basement if possible–and away from the windows.
  • If there is no time to get to a tornado shelter or to a lower level, try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. For instance, in a department store, get up against heavy shelving or counters. In a theater, get under the seats. Remember to protect your head.

Office Buildings, Schools, Hospitals, Churches, and Other Public Buildings

You may find yourself caught in an office, school, hospital, or any building where a large group of people is concentrated in a small area. The exterior walls of these type buildings often have large windows.

  • Move away from windows and glass doorways.
  • Go to the middle of the building on the lowest possible floor.
  • Do not use elevators because the power may fail, and you will be trapped.
  • Protect your head and make yourself as small a target as possible by crouching into a ball.

Response After a Tornado

You or your loved one may be Injured from flying debris, structural collapse, or walking upon debris caused by the tornado.   Because tornadoes often damage power lines, gas lines, and/or electrical systems, there is a risk of fire, electrocution, or an explosion.   Use extreme caution to avoid these and any other hazards.

Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical assistance immediately.   Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. Clean out all open wounds and cuts with soap and clean water. Apply an antibiotic ointment.   If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location and use your whistle to get the attention of those searching for survivors.

If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the main gas valve and leave the house immediately. Notify the gas company, the police or fire departments, or other authority.  Do not turn on the lights, light matches, smoke, or do anything that could cause a spark.  Do not return to your house until you are told it is safe to do so.

Once the storm has passed, even if you are uninjured and your home is not damaged, the surrounding area may have been impacted.

  • Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
  • Avoid entering any structure that has been damaged.
  • Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves, and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
  • Never use generators, pressure washers, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage, or camper.  There is a danger of carbon monoxide poisoning and/or a fire.
  • Stay off the telephone, except to report an emergency.
  • Cooperate fully with public safety officials.