Contributed Post: Homeland Security & Tornado Preparedness

In 1974, I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  On April 3, 1974 I experienced a tornado first hand. That night we lost three Cobra helicopters, I saw what can happen after experiencing such an awesome display of tornado damage and believe everyone should be prepared in the event of severe weather in their area.

Following the recent tornado outbreaks, which have devastated Alabama, Tuscaloosa specifically, and impacted neighboring states alike, I came across a great article written by Pete Spotts of the Christian Science Monitor and felt that the guidance and information were important to share with any and all individuals.

Preparation, preparedness, and knowledge can save your life. The information below is a solid reference point and the reason I felt it was important reiterate.

Gary S., Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc.

Associated Press Video of the Massive Tornado in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Know where to go, what to bring, and who to tell

Before a storm, make sure you have a place to seek shelter, either in your home or — especially if you live in a mobile home — a strong shelter nearby you can move to if a tornado warning is issued.  Each person should have a “go kit” ready to grab on the way to shelter.  The go kit should include a first-aid kit, flashlight and batteries, identification, matches, copies of important financial documents, an extra set of clothes and other items.  Have a relative outside your community serve as an emergency contact so if family members are caught by the storm in different locations, they can call their status in to that relative.  Emergency managers say it’s often easier to get a call out to a distant community in a disaster than it is to call someone within the same community.

Listen for NOAA tornado watches and warnings

Before a storm, make sure you know the various ways your community receives tornado watches and warnings and make sure you have access to them.  A watch is issued when conditions favorable to tornadoes are imminent or present.  A warning is issued when the local forecast office sees the signature of a tornado on its radar or storm spotters report a funnel cloud or its precursor.  NOAA weather radios are particularly useful if you’re indoors or if a storm system arrives overnight, when you’re sleeping.  The radios’ warning tones are loud and annoying for a reason.

What county do you live in?

Before a storm, be sure you know where in your county you are located, learn the names of the surrounding counties and key geographic features in your area.  Warnings are being issued at increasingly fine geographic scales and usually use county names.  When you know where you are within your county and in relation to surrounding counties, you can more effectively interpret the warnings you receive, says Greg Carbin, a warning-coordination meteorologist at NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, OK.

Indoors: Avoid windows and protect yourself from debris

If you receive a warning and you are indoors, move into the basement if you have one, or into a center hallway or windowless room as far from the home’s outside walls as possible. Duck under a sturdy piece of furniture and hang on.

Outdoors: Lie flat in the lowest spot you can find

If you receive a warning and you are outdoors, lie flat on the ground in the lowest spot you can find and cover your head with your arms.  Even a tornado’s winds slow somewhat at ground level, because of friction with the ground, Mr. Carbin explains.  If you lie low, you take advantage of that friction while presenting the wind with as little body surface to push against as possible.  You also present a much smaller target for debris.

After the twister passes…

…don’t enter damaged buildings, and stay alert for downed power lines or leaky gas mains.  Keep tuned in to weather reports, since the storm may be part of a system spawning several tornados.

Myth: If a tornado comes, it will inflict less damage if you open your windows to equalize the air pressure inside and outside the structure

Fact: Tornados hurl enough debris that few if any windows will remain intact in a building in its path.  Wind and debris damage destroy homes – not differences in air pressure inside and outside the affected building, specialists say.

Myth: If you’re caught outside when a tornado approaches, head for a highway underpass. It will shelter you.

Fact: No, it won’t.  If a tornado approaches an underpass, its intense winds will still hurl debris beneath the structure.  Laying down in a ditch or culvert will provide more protection from flying debris, according to emergency response specialists.

Myth: A tornado can’t happen here.

Fact: It may seem that way because tornadoes in a particular part of the country are rare. “But they can occur anywhere,” Carbin says, including Hawaii and Alaska.  So-called tornado alley, which runs from Texas north through the central and upper Great Plains, tends to see more activity each year than any other region.  But Florida also posts a large number of tornadoes compared with other states because of its frequent, intense summer thunderstorms as well as land-falling hurricanes, which can spawn tornadoes.

Myth: This region of the country is dangerous, because tornadoes seem to drop out of the sky each spring and summer.

Fact: Although they can be highly destructive, tornadoes everywhere are extremely rare compared with other weather hazards a location can face, Carbin says.  And they occur on small geographic scales.  Even in Oklahoma or Nebraska, “you can go a lifetime without seeing a tornado,” even if one struck a few miles away, he says.  They may be more common in some parts of the country than others, “but the probability of an event in any one location is very small,” he says.

Source Material:

  • CS Monitor Article:
  • CS Monitor Article – Tornado Checklist:
  • Associated Press:

*Disclaimer*: The opinions expressed by the Lint Center Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. or any employee thereof. The Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Lint Center Bloggers.