Preparing for a Tornado

vernon tornado pic
Anthony Picano

Knowing how to prepare for a tornado can save your life, says the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. About 1,000 of these powerful storms occur annually in the U.S., causing an average of more than $1 billion in property damage and 80 deaths. Stronger tornadoes such as those rated EF-2 and above pack winds of 11 mph to 165 mph and can destroy a house or business within seconds, according to IBHS research. Weaker tornadoes also can be damaging, but a well-built house or business has a greater chance of surviving these storms with limited damage. When re-roofing or remodeling, there are cost effective things you can ask your contractor to do that will not only increase life safety, but also reduce the risk of property damage, according to IBHS research.

Make a plan, take action and set an example for others during National Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

The following questions are designed to identify the best ways to prepare for tornadoes:

What's the safest place to seek shelter during a tornado?
If you do not have a safe room or a tornado shelter, you should identify what might be the safest area of your home or business during tornadoes. This is usually the basement or a small interior room without windows, such as a bathroom, where you can ride out the storm. Be sure you can easily access this area when a tornado threatens. The more walls between you and the outside the better.

At Home:
When tornadoes threaten, head to the center-most part of your basement or home, away from windows and preferably under something sturdy like a workbench or staircase or in a bathtub with a mattress over top of you.

Don’t open your windows. This won’t save the house and may actually make things worse by giving wind and rain a greater chance of getting inside. Get to the safest place possible, away from glass that can break and injure or kill you.

Closing interior doors will also help to compartmentalize the structure and provide more barriers between you and the storm.

Don’t try to ride out a tornado in a manufactured home
. Even manufactured homes with tie-downs overturn in these storms because they have light frames and offer winds a large surface area to push against. Their exteriors are also vulnerable to high winds and wind-borne debris.

Learn more about protecting your home.

At Work:
When a tornado threatens, head to the basements, if available, or seek shelter in corridors and small interior rooms on the first floor of a structure.

Never shelter employees in rooms where there is an outside wall
, particularly those with glass windows, or where the ceiling or roof has a span between supports of more than 40 feet.

Make provisions to shelter employees
working in portable out buildings and those operating trucks and other vehicles.

Learn more about protecting your workplace.

What's the difference between a Tornado Watch and Tornado Warning?

A tornado watch is a caution indicating a high probability of tornadoes within an area approximately 250 miles long and 120 miles wide.

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted on the ground in your county or moving toward your county, or that weather radar indicates a high probability of a tornado existing.

Practice Your Emergency Plan
Now is the time to practice an emergency plan for a family or business so that there is no confusion when disaster strikes. If you don’t have a plan, it is critical to develop one.

Here is information to follow when creating a disaster plan:

Use a NOAA all-hazard radio that is specifically tuned to pick up warnings for your local area. This will minimize more frequent and broader warnings that may or may not apply to you. Having time to seek shelter in severe weather situations is critical.

Become familiar with your community’s severe weather warning system, and make certain every adult and teenager in your family knows what to do when a tornado “watch” or “warning” sounds.

Study the local disaster preparedness plan. Call your emergency management office to find out about the plans for your area.

Decide in advance where you will take shelter: a local community shelter, your own underground storm cellar or in-residence “safe” room. Make sure everyone in the house or business is aware of the plan.

Identify escape routes from your home or business and designate an emergency meeting place for your family or company to reunite if you become separated. Also, establish a contact person to communicate with concerned relatives or business partners.

Put together an emergency kit that includes first aid supplies, a portable NOAA all-hazard radio, a flashlight, fresh batteries, basic tools, work gloves, portable lanterns, a signaling device such as an air horn, prescription medications, extra car keys, extra eyeglasses, cash and important documents such as insurance policies.

What can you do to protect your home or business?

Outdoor Maintenance

Consider replacing rock/gravel landscaping material with shredded bark.

Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed. Cut weak branches and remove pine trees that could fall on your home.

If you have hurricane shutters, and have time to safely use them, this will minimize the chance of flying debris shattering your windows and allowing winds to pressurize your house, which could lead to significant damage.

Structural Protections

How safe is your home against tornado damage?
If you live along the coast and your state follows and enforces modern building codes, the chances of some part of your house surviving to provide shelter in a tornado are increased. However, if you live in the nation’s midsection it’s less likely that your home was built using straps that tie the roof to the walls, inter-story walls to each other, and the walls to the foundation – this is called a continuous load path. It’s one example of how to make your home more tornado resistant when re-roofing or remodeling. Using straps effectively, which might increase the cost of a wood frame house by two percent, would create houses that are significantly more resistant to all kinds of severe wind events.

How safe is your business against tornado damage?
If your building does not provide adequate protection and you are located in a tornado prone area, work with a contractor to harden a section of your facility or build a safe room.
Source: Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety

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