Thursday, May 23, 2013

50 Things About Tornados

If you missed the news, there was a huge (EF5!) tornado in Moore, Oklahoma a few days ago.  While the town begins clean up and wraps up search and rescue operations, here are 50 things to consider about tornadoes:

  1. While there is such a thing as Tornado Alley, tornadoes can happen pretty much anywhere so everyone should know what to do in the event of a tornado.
  2. Anyone living in an area prone to tornadoes or other weather-related emergencies should have a NOAA-approved weather radio.
  3. Always have your BOB ready to grab and go at a moment's notice (see the after photos of Moore, OK and then think about what you would wear or eat in the aftermath of such an event.  Hint: it will be located in your BOB).
  4. Know what your local area has planned in the event of a tornado.  Most tornado-prone areas have special news broadcasts, tornado sirens, info on tornado shelters, etc.  You need to know about all of this stuff AHEAD of time.
  5. Follow the news prior to and up to the disaster (afterwards as well but this may not be possible).  When I am in the midst of a possible disaster I have CNN on, the local news on, the weather station on, Twitter up on my computer screen, NOAA up on my computer screen, etc.
  6. Heed the warnings.  When we spent a spring in Georgia it was nearly habit to get in the basement every time the newscaster came on and said "ya'll better head for the basement now".  This happened multiple times during a particularly short period of time a couple of years ago.
  7. Monitor social media.  Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, etc will probably have more timely updates than the standard TV and newspaper media outlets.
  8. Hold regular tornado drills with your family so everyone will now what to do in the event of a tornado.
  9. Realize that after a disaster your communication options will be limited.  Cell phones probably won't work, text messages may not either, wi fi networks will be down, land lines will be down.  When a whole city is wiped out, your communications options may be limited to satellite phones (rare that people have these), HAM radios (yes you should have one and know how to use it), and sending a runner to the nearest manned disaster station.
  10. Fortunately disaster response has improved exponentially over the past decade.  In most places in the US, a coordinated disaster response will be set up shortly after the danger passes.
  11. Before a tornado strikes you will need to seek shelter--in a basement or cellar is best (provided you aren't in an area that could flood), in a bathroom is OK, in an interior closet is OK, in your car isn't OK).
  12. If you are out in the open when a tornado strikes, lay down flat in the lowest-lying area you can find and cover yourself as best as possible.
  13. While you are sheltering, cover yourself with things that can protect you as you may look up during the tornado and everything--roof, walls, etc--could be gone.  Put on a motorcycle helmet, cover yourself with a mattress or a heavy blanket, put on a bicycle helmet...all of these things will provide extra protection between you and falling wood/metal/debris.
  14. Don't try to drive home from work or drive to your children's school if a tornado is bearing down on you.  You simply won't make it and will be even less protected in your car than you would be in your home or office.
  15. Get your insurance coverage in order now--life, health, auto, home.  All could come into play after a disaster.
  16. Prepare your home for a tornado: tie down heavy furniture, secure your home to the foundation and reinforce the roof per code, glue down glass knick knacks on shelves so they won't go flying, etc.
  17. Prepare the exterior of your home for a tornado: before a tornado hits bring in anything that could fly away (patio furniture, planters, the barbecue grill, etc), remove old or dead trees so they don't become a hazard, etc.  Here's more info on the topic from FEMA.
  18. Take a bit of time now to make a video home inventory of everything you own.  Save this video on a flashdrive and put this in your BOB or backed up in the cloud (you will need this for your insurance claims after the disaster).
  19. If you live in a tornado-prone area, plan ahead with neighbors for such an event.  Who has basements where those without could shelter?  Who can take care of the elderly or children left at home by themselves when a tornado is coming?
  20. Consider where you fall on this map of tornado strikes since 1950.
  21. Consider your transportation options after a disaster.  As you can see from the photos of the tornado-struck area, cars are buried and roads are impassible.  Having a bicycle or motorcycle (and a way to fix multiple flat tires since the roads are covered with debris) may be a good option.
  22. If your city has tornado shelters, physically go and take a look at them so you will know exactly where they are located.
  23. Consider storing survival supplies in a basement or cellar.  Generally when there is major destruction coming it is good to put supplies in an outbuilding (less debris to hunt through afterwards to get your stuff) but in the case of a tornado out buildings are usually demolished and blown away...along with everything stored inside them.
  24. Among other items to stockpile in your basement: bottled water, canned/no prep food, medications, etc.
  25. After a tornado you will want to have clean up supplies on hand: work gloves, goggles, hard hat, tarps, rope, duct tape, etc.
  26. Be able to signal for help if needed (a whistle is an item everyone should have with them, spray paint will allow you to make a big sign requesting help very quickly).
  27. Be prepared to camp out after a tornado (as you can see from the after photos, there were no structures left standing in a large swath of the town after the tornado went through).
  28. Also be prepared to stay at a shelter if they are available or pay your way to stay in a hotel should your home become uninhabitable.
  29. Realize that looters can be an immediate problem after any type of disaster--tornadoes included (thus the reason people camp out on their property instead of going to a shelter; an adequate way to protect yourself and your property would be required).
  30. And scammers can be a problem after a disaster as well, unfortunately.
  31. Immediately after a tornado, determine if first aid is needed by anyone.  Assist with this if possible or evacuate the person a medical facility.
  32. Also after a tornado, check your home for damage (if it is damaged you may need to leave your home immediately), also check for broken gas or water mains (which also means you will need to evacuate).
  33. Watch where you walk after a tornado--hazards range from nails and metal that you could impale your foot with to downed power lines that are still live and could electrocute you.
  34. Be careful if you need to conduct a full-on rescue of trapped people.  Helping someone out of the wreckage of their home can be easy (they simply need physical help to get over small obstacles) or deadly (they are trapped and the entire structure could fall down and trap you as well; in this case wait for professionals to arrive).
  35. Realize that the police car or fire engine passing by may not stop to help.  After large disasters, many first responders are sent to survey the entire disaster scene before they provide assistance.  Obviously this shouldn't stop you from signalling for help if help is needed, it is just a reason that they may not stop.
  36. Be sure your office/worksite has a tornado plan if you are located in a tornado-prone area (this is a good place to start).
  37. Also be sure your children's school has a tornado plan (ditto).
  38. And for your own home, this prep sheet should help.
  39. After a tornado, find out what resources are available.  Often the Red Cross will set up shelters and mobile units to provide food, water, and shelter for those left homeless.  Note that "finding out what's available" could mean walking to the other side of town since all other ways to receive news and information could be gone. 
  40. After a tornado file an insurance claim with your car insurance company if needed and your house insurance company.
  41. Depending on the type and range of a disaster, finding people afterwards can be difficult.  Having a place for your entire family to meet after a disaster is a good idea (which can be much more difficult if the entire town and all of its landmarks are wiped away).
  42. Other options for finding people after a tornado or other disaster include: Safe and Well and Google Person Finder.
  43. Google also has a useful Crisis Response page for disasters.
  44. In the aftermath of a disaster, you may want to contact the Red Cross (for a variety of types of assistance) as well as FEMA (for assistance after a disaster) or your state/local Department of Emergency Management.
  45. If you want to help victims of a disaster, you can give blood or donate money (only to reputable agencies! Scammers come out of the woodwork after such an event and would be only too happy to rip you off).  This gives you an idea of reputable agencies who are responding to the tornado area/victims.
  46. What you don't want to do to help is drive yourself to the disaster area and jump into the fray--you will become yet another person that disaster response teams will need to deal with.  Should you want to be able to respond personally to a disaster, sign up with a reputable agency (Red Cross, FEMA, Mercy Corps, etc), get trained, then if needed, get deployed with the full backing and support of those in the first responder community.
  47. Realize that the disaster will fade from the news in a few days but recovery and clean up will last for months, sometimes years.  Cleaning up, getting insurance money, rebuilding...all of these things take time and a lot of effort.  The more self-sufficient you can be during this time (financially, physically, etc), the better.
  48. Don't scrimp on insurance.  Full coverage auto insurance will pay for your car that was blown into the next county, renter's insurance will cover the loss of all of your belongings as well as a temporary place to stay, home owner's insurance is invaluable to getting the funds to rebuild (make sure your insurance covers the disasters most likely to happen where you live!).
  49. Sometimes, you just need to rely on instinct.
  50. Never stop preparing.  The things you learned in first aid class could save a life, the HAM radio you play with on the weekends with your buddies could become a lifeline in a disaster, the ammo you reload could save your life.  Prepping, planning, and most important--practicing--is a daily thing, not a thing to be needed during a once in a lifetime disaster event.

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