Practice tornado safety before, after storm
In spring 1942, a photographer snapped this photo of a twister about to descend on Building No. 2100 at Camp Forsyth. The building was the Telephone and Telegraph Exchange. Tornadoes are common in the plains states between March and July. However, tornadoes can strike year-round and occur through the winter season. During the 1930s and 1940s, tornadoes, also known as twisters, struck with little warning. Photo by: U.S. ARMY.
Story by: Julie Fiedler
1ST INF. DIV. POST
Editor's Note: During the month of March, Fort Riley will observe Severe Weather Awareness Month. This article marks the second in a series devoted to educating area residents about the dangers of severe weather, as well as safety precautions they can take in the event of severe weather at Fort Riley and in the surrounding communities.
While some people may associate tornadoes with the blustering storm that swept Dorothy away in "The Wizard of Oz," severe weather is not to be taken lightly.
"As we start into March, which is our spring severe weather awareness month, our first focus is going to be on tornado safety (because) that is the prominent threat in our area," said Chris Hallenbeck, emergency management specialist, Plans and Protection Branch, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air with winds up to 300 mph. Their paths of destruction can be as large as one mile wide and 50 miles long, according to Ready.gov.
Tornadoes can sometimes develop so rapidly that affected areas have little advance warning. It's important to understand what the different weather advisories mean, Hallenbeck said.
Tornado watches indicate conditions are conducive to the formation of a tornado. Tornado warnings indicate a tornado has been identified.
"Don't wait until the warning to decide, 'Oh, let me get a plan together,'" Hallenbeck said. "Get your plan together now, and that way, you're not trying to run around like a chicken with your head cut off."
To stay safe in the event of a tornado, it's important to prepare before severe weather hits, as well as to follow safety guidelines during and after a tornado.
BEFORE A TORNADO
Identify a safe room in the home where Family members can seek shelter in the event a tornado strikes. Basements and interior rooms, like bathrooms and closets, are the best bets provided they are on the lowest possible level of the home.
Some newer homes on post come equipped with Federal Emergency Management Agency-certified safe rooms, Hallenbeck said.
Prepare an emergency kit with plenty of food and water for Family members, including pets. Additional supplies like a first aid kit, candles and matches, clothing for Family members, medicine, extra cash and important Family documents also are recommended by FEMA. Also store a kit in a safe room if possible.
"Thinking outside the box will help you be better prepared if, unfortunately, the tornado does strike your home," said Hallenbeck, who also keeps thick blankets and an extra dog leash in his kit.
Hallenbeck suggests having a radio or similar device in a kit to receive information during the storm.
"You want to know what's going on while you're trying to protect yourself, protect your Family," Hallenbeck said.
Discuss primary and alternate emergency procedures with Family members. What happens if someone is not with his or her Family? How will they get in touch? What if cell towers are down? What if a home is in an affected area? Where will Family members meet if they can't get home? What should someone do if he or she is at work, school or another location?
Family members should practice their emergency plan.
It is important to be cognizant of local forecasts, and one may consider buying a weather radio to receive alerts of severe weather by county. Be alert to tornado watches and stay tuned to emergency communications.
Fort Riley's Mass Warning Notification System is equipped with tornado sirens, as well as a Giant Voice system, which can issue alerts for the population outdoors.
If a person is inside, however, he or she might miss the outdoor warnings. Hallenbeck recommends signing up for AtHoc messaging to get text alerts sent to a cell phone.
To receive AtHoc notifications, sign up using a common access card-enabled computer or one of the AtHoc computer kiosks located throughout Fort Riley, including at Army Community Service, the Soldier Readiness Processing Center, In-processing and the Defense Eligibility Enrollments Reporting System (DEERS) ID card center.
In the event a tornado warning is issued, seek appropriate shelter immediately.
DURING A TORNADO
The National Weather Service advises people to "DUCK" in the event of a tornado:
• Down to the lowest level possible
• Under something sturdy
• Cover their head
• Keep in a sheltered area until the storm has passed.
More detailed safety tips depend largely on where someone is when a tornado strikes.
Learn and follow these tips from the National Weather Service to practice tornado safety:
• If in a home or small structure, go to a safe room and take cover with coats or blankets to shield from flying debris, like broken glass.
"(Debris) can be anything from the glass flying to the structural boards to just your household items falling on you or flying through the air," Hallenbeck said.
• If in a larger structure: Go to the lowest possible floor and a small, interior room, like a stairwell. Avoid windows or large open rooms. Stay low and cover head.
• If outside: Lie flat in a ditch with hands over head. Stay alert to flash flooding, which can occur with tornadoes. Never seek shelter under a highway overpass.
• If in a car: If a person can't get to a shelter or ditch, he or she should stay in his or her car with a seat belt fastened. Get down below window level and keep head covered with a blanket, coat or hands.
• If in a mobile home: Get to the nearest shelter immediately. Never stay in a mobile home during a tornado.
AFTER A TORNADO
Simply because a storm has passed does not mean the danger has as well.
"The first thing afterward is, of course, assessing yourself and your Family, trying to get your communication and information flowing again," Hallenbeck said. "Also being aware that if you are in the tornado, you're thinking about things out there that still can harm you."
Dislocated debris, downed power lines, gas lines, water mains and other storm damage pose a threat to safety. Remain vigilant even after a tornado has passed.
"Be careful if you're crawling out or helping somebody," Hallenbeck added.
If faced with an emergency, dial 911 for immediate assistance. Fort Riley resources also will be available for additional help, Hallenbeck said.
"If we have a tornado on Fort Riley, immediately, the Crisis Action Team will go into their drill effects," Hallenbeck said. "We'll have our Family Assistance Centers as one thing that's immediately going to be stood up. Part of the (FAC) is our shelters. If you find your house is unlivable, you just can't go back in, there are shelters that immediately start getting stood up … Then, we look at the after-effects of clearing the debris."
From rescue to recovery to assistance, responders are trained and drilled on severe weather preparedness. However, it is every person's responsibility to ensure they have a plan in place for their own safety.
For more information on Fort Riley's readiness, visit www.riley.army.mil/UnitPage.aspx?unit=ReadyArmy. For more information on tornado safety, visit www.ready.gov/tornadoes.
Last Updated: 05/29/2013 9:53 AM