Tornado Safety Planning and Preparation Tips

Wondering Where To Begin?

If you are wondering where to begin in preparing for safety for a tornado, then begin with information. Learn the "language" of the weather in your area. Weather watches and warnings come in a variety of levels. Learn what they mean so you know what to do when you hear these terms in the media.

The term "tornado watch" means that there is the potential, in the watch area, for threatening weather to develop.... even possibly a tornado. It is simple, it is the time to do exactly that....watch. Be aware of the potential for danger. Be watching for changes in the weather. Be watching for the information that things are changing. Watch.

The term, "Tornado Warning" means that there has been issued a WARNING that you ARE in a dangerous area and need to act. There is a tornado that has been spotted and confirmed. Following the warning, there will be information about where it is located and where it is going. A warning means you need to take ACTION immediately! Work your plan....NOW! Don't wait until the cake comes out of the oven in 5 minutes. Turn the oven off and take shelter.




Preparing for a tornado begins before the ominous clouds appear. This picture was taken minutes before the 2011 Joplin Tornado that killed 161 people struck.  I was standing on my parents' front porch and not prepared for the tragic events to come.
Preparing for a tornado begins before the ominous clouds appear. This picture was taken minutes before the 2011 Joplin Tornado that killed 161 people struck. I was standing on my parents' front porch and not prepared for the tragic events to come. | Source
This was the location of a gas station located across from one hospital in town.  Total devistation took only minutes.  Survival occurred for those who were watching, aware, prepared and actively working their plan for safety.
This was the location of a gas station located across from one hospital in town. Total devistation took only minutes. Survival occurred for those who were watching, aware, prepared and actively working their plan for safety. | Source

Work A Plan? What Plan?

When you hear warning sirens or see a warning come through the media, it is time to work your plan. You can't work your plan, however, if you haven't MADE a plan! So...your next step is to make a plan. A Tornado Plan takes into consideration everything you might possibly need to have, and the actions you need to take, in the event of an imminent tornado.

Take a moment and make a list of everything you would need to:

  1. wait out a tornado that is happening.
  2. survive a tornado that hits.
  3. recover following a tornado.

This includes every person in your household and those who are regular visitors. If Gramma comes over every Tuesday night for dinner and the kid next door is there every Sunday night, then you need to plan for the event to include them as well. It sounds more difficult than it really is, so stick with it!

Let's break these each down.

Water and finger foods and snacks are vital to the waiting and the moments immediately after surviving.  A cookie can lend comfort to a child while waiting out a tornado and at the same time it can stablize a person experiencing low blood sugar.
Water and finger foods and snacks are vital to the waiting and the moments immediately after surviving. A cookie can lend comfort to a child while waiting out a tornado and at the same time it can stablize a person experiencing low blood sugar. | Source

Step 1: Waiting Out A Tornado

While most tornadoes only take minutes, at most, to go through an area, if you are aware of the watch, then you can possibly be waiting it out for a half hour or even more. If you have an excellent early detection service in your area, then you should have a longer time to wait it out. That is GOOD!! That gives you as much time as possible to be as safe as possible! Keep in mind that the "crunch time" of an actual tornado is only seconds or minutes. You will KNOW when it is passing by in most average locations. The roar of the wind and the sounds of the impact of debris are loud. I personally have experienced close brushes with two tornadoes. Each were different, but both sounded like we were sitting three inches away from a speeding locomotive! The roar and rumble, the ground shaking, the hail pounding were evident in both instances and were all very typical for tornadoes. What made it manageable was the preparation taken ahead of time and knowing what needed to be done. So let's get started.

There are several things you need to wait out a tornado. The first is a location for your "Safe Place". Look for a place that is:

  • A solid structure. If you are in a mobile home or car, then you will need to find a structure that is solid. A concrete structure such as a tornado safe room is best, but a house is a better solution than being in a car or mobile home. Make plans ahead. You may need to go to a public shelter such as a school or city hall. KNOW your area, locate a safe structure and include traveling to that location in your plan.
  • As low and as close to the ground as possible. For example, in a multiple level house, you would be safest in the basement or ground level.
  • Away from outer walls and windows. Flying debris such as boards, sheet metal, trees or even cars, can penetrate outer walls. Glass from broken windows is an extremely dangerous part of the debris. The inner most room, then, is the safest from flying debris.
  • The smallest possible space. Being in the center of a huge auditorium is NOT the safest place, just because you are away from the walls and safe from penetrating debris. The ceiling can be just as dangerous as the outdoors. The smallest possible space will allow you protection from collapsing ceilings. A closet or hallway in the innermost part of a building is the safest. A bathroom has pipes in the walls which can offer a more stable frame of protection. Some tornado survivors tell of holding tightly to toilets or pipes and seeking protection in a bathtub. Bathrooms also typically have smaller windows or glass bricks which offer a greater resistance to breakage.

Once you select your space, you are ready to "equip" it! Of course you will need to keep informed about the weather, so a small battery operated radio or weather radio is a must. Extra batteries are a smart addition and be sure to keep them fresh. I like to use them to replace the batteries in the smoke detector whenever the time change occurs, then place a new pack in the safe place. I also use a weather radio which has a battery back up, which is more reliable than the average radio station.

What else will you need? Think of it as similar to being in the car for a 30-45 minute ride. What would you take to keep everyone entertained. Some light snacks, toys and comfort items are best. Think about safety as well as practicality. Items should be small, soft and provide the most entertainment value for the most persons. Glass objects are not the comfort items you should choose. Pick something soft and pliable. Think about it becoming a projectile object. A teddy bear is much softer than a music box!

Know where the closest pillows, cushions and protective items are located. If your safe place is a closet, use that closet to store extra blankets and pillows which can be used for protection. Coloring books and crayons take up little space and are excellent to distract children while waiting for the "all clear". Paperback books are small and softer and offer a good distraction for adults as well. A deck of playing cards fit the requirement well. Attach a list of possible games with a rubber band. Sometimes when stressed, we forget the simplest of details. Having a list with games like War, Spades, and Solitaire on it will help.

Bottled water is also useful, as is some simple snacks. A box of crackers or fruit snacks will keep even the smallest guest happy. Again, make sure these are changed out and kept fresh. The only thing worse than having to suffer through stale snacks or dealing with plastic tasting water is when that is what you are actually serving to children!

Now....as the storm grows closer, you need to have made preparation for surviving.

Once you select your safe place, it is important to equip it with vital essentials.  A weather radio, flashlight, and batteries are the first items to add to any safe room.
Once you select your safe place, it is important to equip it with vital essentials. A weather radio, flashlight, and batteries are the first items to add to any safe room. | Source
Other essential items in any disaster are money, identification, closed toe shoes, jeans and phone chargers.
Other essential items in any disaster are money, identification, closed toe shoes, jeans and phone chargers. | Source

Step 2: Planning For Survival

You must PLAN for survival. There are things you can do to help increase your chance and that of your loved ones for survival. You have your safe place. Now look for ways to protect yourselves from things like debris and collapsing ceilings. Most homes have things that are easy to put into your survival plan, such as sofa cushions. In that moment when you go to your safe place, it is easy to grab the sofa cushions to use to help protect your body. Are you strong enough to take a mattress to cover up with? Then DO it!! During one tornado, we pulled the mattresses over the space we had crawled into. Our home survived that tornado, so it wasn't an issue. The back of our barn....not so lucky! Completely gone in seconds! We lost 7 fully grown oak trees and a barn. We were blessed. Our barn is only 15 yards from the house.

In addition to cushions or mattresses, keeping things like children's bicycle helmets handy, may be just the ticket to surviving a tornado. Simple items can keep family members safer. Simple steps of planning make survival more likely. Blankets, jackets and shoes are absolute essentials. Having them makes surviving more comfortable. I tuck extra glasses, medicines and essentials into my purse and put my purse in the safe spot well ahead of time. In a clutch time, I know I will focus on people, but these are things I will want and need following a storm.

No one person can prepare for every possibility and every tornado. In the 2011 Joplin, Missouri tornado, many lives were lost in spite of being aware days ahead and being prepared. Many of those who died, however, did not even know that the storm was coming. No one was prepared for the intensity of an EF5 tornado in the area. No one. Stories of survival came from those who were aware of the storm, learned of its potential destruction and took shelter. People took shelter in many places, such as closets, bathrooms, restaurant freezers and storm shelters. People survived in their cars. People died in their cars. We learned many things from this storm. One thing is that surviving can happen, even with an EF5 tornado. Being aware and being prepared are essential.

Prepare a Tornado kit. In a sealable plastic container, your kit should include the following items:

  • bottled water - 2 days worth minimum for each person
  • protein bars or peanut butter crackers - it may be your only food for the first 24 hours
  • 2 days worth of regular medications for everyone
  • Tylenol, allergy medications and bandages - in case of injuries
  • clothes and closed toe shoes for everyone - don't forget raincoats
  • cash (our ATMs were fritzing out) - cash was essential
  • flashlights and extra batteries
  • insurance policy numbers and agent's phone numbers
  • phone numbers for friends and family - cell phone batteries died and weren't able to be recharged, numbers stored in dead phones are not accessible
  • plastic gloves to protect hands when cleaning debris
  • a list of where to turn off utilities. You may know where to shut off the water normally, but under the stress of a tornado occurring....who knows what you will remember. If you are injured and cannot do it, then this list will help the person who has to do it for you

Customize your kit to include items you will need for those persons in your home to last 2 days without electricity. Remember, the aftermath of a tornado is NOT a normal environment. Many people outside the immediate tornado zone went a week without electricity following the Joplin tornado. It was a challenge, but it was nothing compared to the devastation in the actual tornado zone. People who had a kit prepared ahead of time were better off than others who had made no preparations. I now run a bathtub full of water before a severe storm with potential tornadoes. Why? It takes approximately 2.5 gallons of water to flush a toilet when there is no electricity. I like being able to flush.

Taking photos of antiques and collectibles is a great way to store an inventory.  Download those pics onto a CD or store in an online storage like Skydrive or Cloud. You can also take pics of each room and emailing to yourself to retrieve later.
Taking photos of antiques and collectibles is a great way to store an inventory. Download those pics onto a CD or store in an online storage like Skydrive or Cloud. You can also take pics of each room and emailing to yourself to retrieve later. | Source
Documenting antique items and collectibles can be as simple as taking pictures and posting in an online album.
Documenting antique items and collectibles can be as simple as taking pictures and posting in an online album. | Source

Are You Prepared?

Are you prepared in the event of a natural disaster? Do you have a survival kit?

  • Yes.
  • No.
  • Not yet, I am working on it now though!
See results without voting

Step 3: Tornado Recovery

Recovering from a tornado that is a complete devastation is possible. It is always possible. It takes hard work, dedication and time. Immediately following the Joplin tornado, we saw miles upon miles of emergency vehicles trailing into Joplin to help. We grabbed our jackets and headed out to join them. I witnessed groups of people gearing up with backpacks filled with water, food, bandages and tools marching into areas that had been blocked by trees and pieces of homes that had been destroyed. Having gloves and closed toe shoes was an essential part of beginning the recovery process in Joplin. The gloves and shoes helped to protect from splinters and cuts from debris. The process of cleaning up the destruction took lots of time. It is still happening and we are nearly two years into the recovery now. In the meantime, there are tons of things that can be done ahead to make things easier.

Take inventory ahead of time. This can be done either by a list of items in the home, or by taking photos of each room. In addition, photos of important documents like birth certificates, marriage documents, driver's licenses, social security cards, car titles, house deeds, shot records, insurance cards, medical cards, and important phone numbers are not only useful, but essential documents. Take a photo and email them to yourself. You can access them from any computer and speed up the process of replacing these items.

Every thing you can do before to prepare, will be one less thing to worry about during recovery. It is a long and exhausting process, but worth the effort. Some places are still in their original aftermath condition. Other places have been cleared and left empty. Yet others have been completely rebuilt. We take things one day at a time. We now KNOW it can happen to us and it can happen to anyone. We know that we must learn, plan and prepare. We are watchful and still very wary of the weather. We also know that we can survive and survive better if we plan and prepare. You can too.

The Important Things

Selecting your safe place, planning for wait time and laying in supplies for survival are all important parts of preparing yourself and your loved ones for a potentially devastating crisis. While preparing is vitally important, there are sometimes something you cannot prepare for ahead of time. An EF4 or EF5 tornado is probably something you cannot prepare to survive unless your safe room is embedded into the ground. This is when you realize that when all is said and done, the only truly important things are your family. KNOWING where they are and what they will do in the event of an extreme tornado will give you some comfort during the critical moments of when it is actually occurring.

Most essential for the aftermath is knowing that they are secure in their salvation. Christians have the gift of knowing that in the event of the death of a loved one, it is only a temporary separation. Having the hope of meeting again in eternity gives families a peace that can only be found in Christ.

Prepare for a crisis and prepare for eternity. Most important.....prepare.

Text and Photo Copyright 2013 Deborah M. Carey

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