Disaster Preparedness

Tornado Safety

Ordinarily, tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms, with the ability to cause destructions, injuries, and even death within seconds. Damage paths often go as far as one mile wide and 50 miles long. Just like many other areas in the United States who are at the risk of this hazard, Southwest Virginia is not an exception. Some tornadoes are visible, while others are extremely deadly. In most cases, tornadoes develop so rapidly with little or no time at all to issue warnings to the community. Moreover, although the hazard is mostly experienced during spring and summer, it is also highly likely that it can strike any season. Due to the intensity of destruction and injury caused by tornadoes, it is critical for people to develop disaster plans as a way of shielding their families, properties, and businesses from destruction. Having an earlier notice that a tornado is incoming within the locality gives the critical time required to prepare for the disaster. However, it is important to remember that an official alert may not always be issued, but with the high frequency that the disaster occurs in the United States, it is always important to be ready.

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Tornadoes can happen anywhere and during any time of the year. It is estimated that every year, around 1,000 episodes of tornadoes are reported throughout the United States, and they can be deadly as they come (“U.S. Tornado Climatology,” n.d). Sometimes, the storms appear rapidly, and it is possible to experience multiple episodes at the same time. Tornadoes preparedness is a continuous process that calls for planning, equipping, training, and exercising as a way of getting ready for the hazard. In essence, planning involves identifying safe places to take shelter, familiarizing oneself with the community’s warning system and regular monitoring. Both homes and businesses may require obtaining emergency resources as defined in the emergency supplies kit. Besides, it is important for everyone within the disaster perimeter to get training and regular practice as a way of ensuring that everyone is familiar with what is expected of them in the event of a tornado.


Tornadoes are likely to hit when people least expect them, which means it is possible for some individuals to be outside or inside the building. In case a tornado hits when people are inside the building, it is important to identify the safest shelter locations (OSHA, n.d). An underground area such as a basement is highly recommended as the best protection from tornadoes. However, if such an area is not available, then it is advisable to consider the following. Seek shelter in a small interior room on the lowest floor possible, and remember to keep a safe distance from the doors, windows, and outside walls; if possible, people should assemble at the center and avoid corners since they are likely to attract debris. Rooms with reinforced concrete or bricks and a heavy concrete floor are the safest. Avoid as much as possible assembling in cafeterias and gymnasiums, or any areas that have broad and flat roofing. On the other hand, in case a tornado hits when one is outdoors, and it is not possible to get a storm shelter in a sturdy building or an available refugee area, there is no recommendation to the last resort action. However, as OSHA recommends, it is important to cover the head and neck, or a cloak is possible. If one is driving, secure the safety belt and drive to the nearest shelter, and if flying debris is in excess while in the vehicle, there are usually two options. The first alternative calls for staying in the car with the safety belt on and lower the head below the windows by covering oneself with hands or a blanket. The second option is viable if there is an area lower than the roadway, and in such a case, it is advisable to get out of the car and lie down while covering the head with hands. By all means, it is highly discouraged to attempt outrunning a tornado in a vehicle.

Accountability Procedure

When a tornado occurs, it is important to undertake various accountability procedures as a way of ensuring that everyone is safe. The first step is developing a system that will help identify who is within the building in case an emergency occurs. This is mostly applicable in workplaces, schools, or in a hospital. The most appropriate one is an alarm system to warn everyone within the building. In addition, in case there are people within who do not understand English; it is important to have a communication plan to alert them of the impending danger. At home, it is easy to account for family members, but in an organization or a school, it is recommended to do a head count as the individuals arrive at the shelter. In additional to the above, OSHA recommends having in readiness an emergency action plan including evacuations, and identification of safe places where people can take refuge in the event of tornadoes.


The other most important thing when preparing for a disaster is a disaster supplies kit. While in the house, make sure that the first-aid kit is placed where every member of the family can easily access it, and it is fully stocked with medical supplies. Check on the fire extinguishers and teach the family members beforehand on how to use the fire extinguisher, when or how to turn off the water, gas, and electricity in the house. Ensure that every member of the family understands where the utility switches or valves are located so they can be turned off quickly in the event of an emergency. Another thing to consider is to ensure that all important documents are stored safely in a water and fire-proof safe. Such include birth certificates, ownership certificates, academic certificates, and any other important documents. A basic emergency kit should help in readiness for a disaster and help members push through tough periods accompanying disasters as recommended by Fema (n.d).

Disaster Supplies Kit

The kit should contain the following items. Safe drinking water for keeping the body dehydrated, according to the recommendations by FEMA (n.d) at least ensure one gallon of water per individual per day for at least three days. In case there is a warning about an impending tornado disaster, it is advisable to the stock canned or dried food in the house to last for up to three days per person. The food should comprise of nonperishable items that do not need refrigeration or cooking to prevent them from going stake in case members are trapped in isolation. When tornadoes strike or any other form of disaster, it is possible for people to sustain injuries. A well-stocked kit with sufficient medical supplies comes in handy in case people suffer injuries. Alongside the first-aid kit, ensure that there are enough dust masks to protect people from inhaling dust particles or fine debris. This is recommended for home preparation, at the workplace or in school. Another important thing to tag along is a whistle to signal for help. Although it may be hard for people to hear a whistle especially if there is a lot of noise, it is safer to carry it along as may prove important. A flashlight and extra batteries to help in lighting up especially during the night and in the event power goes off completely. However, a flashlight without extra batteries is as useless as not having one. The extra batteries will help provide an additional source of energy in case the current ones are depleted. In addition to the above, and in this era of technology a cell phone with a power bank is also highly significant. The mobile phone can be used to alert the authorities and emergency rescue services about the location of the entrapped victims. Besides, it will also help in informing family and friends as well as enquire about their whereabouts and warn them to stay safe. A power bank, in this case, will provide the much-needed extra supply in case the cell phone’s battery is drained. Another thing that can help in the event of a disaster is an emergency crank radio. Although weather forecasters estimate the expected damage, they might not give the exact details about the expected damage. The radio will provide information to people trapped inside the building about the status of the disaster and if there is more to come. Lastly, local maps are important resources that may help seek shelter in safe places in case of an emergency outdoors. The maps usually include details about the surrounding area, and it can be used to locate areas where people can be safe when tornadoes hit.


When trapped inside a building, extreme care when exiting is advised. Matches and lighters should be avoided and in case spilled gas is detected people should leave the building immediately. In case you are trapped inside the building, FEMA recommends waiting until help arrives, but cover the mouth with a mask or a piece of cloth to avoid breathing dust (“How to prepare for a Tornado,” n.d). When outdoors, people are advised against taking shelter in damaged buildings. Downed power lines should be avoided and reported to the power company’s emergency line. After the disaster, cleaning up should be done with extreme caution especially when handling debris. Wear boots or wet shoes to protect the feet from exposed debris and nails that are typical with post tornadoes. In the case of injuries, do not move anyone who is seriously injured unless their life is threatened of death or further injury. When moving someone, the person’s head and neck should be held in the same position as they were when the accident happened. If it is in a hospital, it is possible for patients to suffer from anxiety or show signs of depression. If such incidences are detected, then the best option is to give the patient the proper medical attention.


“How to prepare for a Tornado.” (n.d). FEMA. Retrieved from: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1409003506195-52740fd2983079a211d041f7aea6b85d/how_to_prepare_tornado_033014_508.pdf

“U.S. Tornado Climatology.” (n.d). National Center for Environmental Information. Retrieved from: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events/us-tornado-climatology.

FEMA. (n.d). Recommended Items to Include in a Basic Emergency Supply Kit. Retrieved from: https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1390846764394-dc08e309debe561d866b05ac84daf1ee/checklist_2014.pdf

OSHA. (n.d). Tornado Preparedness and Response. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/dts/weather/tornado/preparedness.html.

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