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The following article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of Family Safety & Health and represents the type of information your employees and their families can learn about each quarter to help them stay safe while off the job.

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Tornadoes: Keep your family protected

By Alan Ferguson

Cheryl Nelson

Tornadoes can occur at any time of the year, but for much of the United States the peak season starts in the spring and runs through early summer. How can you keep your family safe during these potentially catastrophic weather events?

Family Safety & Health asked Cheryl Nelson, meteorologist and weather and preparedness adviser for Cummins Inc., some key questions to help you be better prepared.

Family Safety & Health: What are some important elements of a tornado emergency plan?

CHERYL NELSON: ­ The most important thing people should do is determine their tornado “safe room” in advance. The safest place you can be during a tornado warning is a tornado shelter or a basement. If those are not available, go to the lowest level of your building and take shelter in an interior room without windows.

Essentially, put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. If you live in a mobile home, locate a sturdy building ahead of time. If you work or live in a high-rise building, get to the lowest level possible and seek shelter in an interior room or hallway.

Other safety measures you should consider:

  • Have a plan for all members of your family (seniors, children, special needs family members and pets).
  • Store a portable disaster kit with essentials such as water and non-perishable food in your safe room.
  • Have an established family meeting place in the event you all are separated.
  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A watch means the potential exists for a tornado and you should be prepared to take shelter, while a warning means a tornado is occurring or is expected to develop, so you should take shelter immediately.
  • Know where the safe room(s) and/or hallway(s) are at work and school.
  • Keep leashes and carriers nearby so you can take your pets to your safe room, too.

FS&H: How often should families have tornado drills?

NELSON: Some states, like Virginia, hold statewide tornado drills once per year to prepare residents for tornado emergencies and to test public warning systems. Believe it or not, tornadoes occur in all 50 states. Like fire drills, I would recommend having tornado drills at least one or two times per year.

FS&H: What are some tips for conducting a tornado drill?

NELSON: When conducting a drill, always make sure everyone is aware of the date/time of the drill to avoid panic. Once everyone reaches their safe room, remind them to crouch down on the floor and cover their heads with their hands. After everyone has moved to their safe room, announce that the drill is over.

FS&H: What should you do if you’re outside during a tornado?

NELSON: If you are driving and see a tornado, you should pull over as soon as you safely can do so and, if possible, park away from trees or anything else that could become flying debris. If there is a sturdy building nearby and you have time to safely get to shelter, seek shelter immediately.

If there is no shelter nearby, you have to use your best judgment – you may either get out of the vehicle and lay flat on your stomach in a nearby ditch and cover your head with your hands (away from anything that could become flying debris), or you may stay in your vehicle and get down as low as possible below the windows and dashboard and cover your head with your hands.

FS&H: Why should people avoid using underpasses as shelters?

NELSON: Have you ever noticed how much stronger the wind is when you walk down a narrow city street with skyscrapers on either side? That’s basically a “wind tunnel” effect, and the same thing happens as wind rushes through an underpass. ­ The winds there will be stronger and will channel any nearby flying debris. ­This is not a safe place to take shelter.

FS&H: In this age of smartphones, some people might want to take pictures or videos of storms – or drive closer to get a “better shot.” Why should people avoid this temptation?

NELSON: Tornadoes are unpredictable, so please leave storm chasing to trained professionals. Don’t gamble with Mother Nature just to get a great photograph or video to post on social media.

After a tornado outbreak, first responders will have a hard enough time getting to people who need help. Please don’t rush out in your vehicle to tornado chase and add yourself to the list of people who need to be rescued.

FS&H: What are some things to keep in mind in the aftermath of a storm?

NELSON:

  • If you are properly trained, provide first aid to those in need until paramedics arrive.
  • Stay aware and get the latest updates from NOAA Weather Radio, the Emergency Alert System and local authorities/media.
  • Use caution after a disaster. Wear sturdy shoes, work gloves, long pants and even eye goggles, if available.
  • If there is a lot of debris, use a mask or cover your mouth with a cloth or T-shirt to avoid breathing in dust, smoke or other harmful air particles.
  • Do not touch or try to move downed power lines or utility lines.
  • Do not walk or drive through floodwaters.
  • Do not enter damaged buildings unless you know they are safe.
  • Text or use social media to contact loved ones rather than call. Phone systems may be down or busy after a disaster, so please save phone calls for emergencies.
  • If your property was damaged, call your insurance company, and be aware of “insurance scammers.”
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Note: Although the information and recommendations contained in this article have been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, the National Safety Council makes no guarantee as to, and assumes no responsibility for, the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances. This material may not be reproduced in any fashion without the National Safety Council’s permission.