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Louisiana Governer's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness

Tornado Safety

Tornadoes are one of the most deadly and unpredictable forms of severe weather that we face, and Bossier Parish is no stranger to a tornado's deadly forces.

The unpredictable nature of a tornado makes it necessary for you to be prepared. Split-second decisions must be made during a tornado. Prior planning is the key. Consider the following tips from Roger Edwards of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, when making your own plans for safety.

Prevention and practice before the storm: At home, have a family tornado plan, based on the kind of dwelling you live in, and on the safety tips below. Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds, and practice a family tornado drill at least once a year.

Have a pre-determined place to meet after a disaster. Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes; so store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc.) in or next to your shelter space, ready to use on a few seconds' notice.

When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local TV, radio or NOAA Weather Radio and stay alert for warnings.

Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you!

If you shop frequently at certain stores, learn where there are bathrooms, storage rooms or other interior shelter areas away from windows, and the shortest ways to get there. All administrators of schools, shopping centers, nursing homes, hospitals, sports arenas, stadiums, mobile home communities and offices should have a tornado safety plan in place, with easy-to-read signs posted to direct everyone to a safe, close-by shelter area. Schools and office building managers should regularly run well-coordinated drills. If you are planning to build a house, consider an underground tornado shelter or a safe interior room.

Know the signs of a tornado: Weather forecasting science is not perfect and some tornadoes do occur without a tornado warning. There is no substitute for staying alert to the sky. Besides an obviously visible tornado, here are some things to look and listen for:

  1. Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
  2. Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base -- tornadoes sometimes have no funnel!
  3. Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
  4. Day or night - Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
  5. Night - Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
  6. Night - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning -- especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.

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WHAT TO DO...

In a house with a basement: Avoid windows. Get in the basement and under some kind of sturdy protection (heavy table or work bench), or cover yourself with a mattress or sleeping bag. Know where very heavy objects rest on the floor above (pianos, refrigerators, waterbeds, etc.) and do not go under them. They may fall down through a weakened floor and crush you.

In a house with no basement, in a dorm, or in an apartment: Avoid windows. Go to the lowest floor, to a small center room (like a bathroom or closet), under a stairwell, or in an interior hallway with no windows. Crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down; and cover your head with your hands. A bathtub may offer a shell of partial protection. Even in an interior room, you should cover yourself with some sort of thick padding (mattress, blankets, etc.), to protect against falling debris in case the roof and ceiling fail.

In an office building, hospital, nursing home or skyscraper: Go directly to an enclosed, windowless area in the center of the building -- away from glass. Then, crouch down and cover your head. Interior stairwells are usually good places to take shelter, and if they are not crowded, they will allow you to get to a lower level quickly. Stay off the elevators; you could be trapped in them if the power is lost.

In a mobile home: Get out! Even if your home is tied down, you are probably safer outside, even if the only alternative is to seek shelter out in the open. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes; and it is best not to play the low odds that yours will make it. If your community has a tornado shelter, go there fast. If there is a sturdy permanent building within easy running distance, seek shelter there. Otherwise, lie flat on low ground away from your home, protecting your head. If possible, use open ground away from trees and cars, which can be blown onto you.

At school: Follow the drill! Go to the interior hall or room in an orderly way, as you are told. Crouch low, head down, and protect the back of your head with your arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms such as gyms and auditoriums.

In a car or truck: Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. (It is safer to get the car out of mud later, if necessary, than to cause a crash.) Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If you are in open country, run to low ground, away from any cars (which may roll over on you). Lie flat, face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.

In the open: If possible, seek shelter in a sturdy building. If not, lie flat, face-down on low ground, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Get as far away from trees and cars as you can; they may be blown onto you in a tornado.

In a shopping mall or large store: Do not panic. Watch for others. Move as quickly as possible to an interior bathroom, storage room or other small, enclosed area, away from windows.

In a church or theater: Do not panic. If possible, move quickly but in an orderly fashion to an interior bathroom or hallway, away from windows. Crouch face-down and protect your head with your arms. If there is no time to do that, get under the seats or pews, protecting your head with your arms or hands.

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AFTER THE TORNADO...

Keep your family together and wait for emergency personnel to arrive. Carefully render aid to those who are injured. Stay away from power lines and puddles with wires in them; they may still be carrying electricity! Watch your step to avoid broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects. Stay out of any heavily damaged houses or buildings; they could collapse at any time. Do not use matches or lighters, in case of leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby. Remain calm and alert, and listen for information and instructions from emergency crews or local officials.

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What Are You Prepared For?

Have you ever considered what you and your family would do in the event of a natural disaster? What about a man-made disaster such as terrorism or chemical spill? Do you have a family emergency plan?

Emergencies would be easy to prepare for if they were predictable. Unfortunately, they are, by their very nature, almost impossible to completely prepare for. However, there are many things that we can do as individuals to be better equipped when an emergency situation happens to us or in our neighborhoods.

Every emergency will be different. Some may force a family to evacuate its home; others may force whole neighborhoods to be evacuated, while still others may require families to stay in their homes for days. Emergencies don't always happen at the most convenient time, such as when the whole family is home together. They may occur while some are at work or school, or away on business. If you were cut off from communicating with your family, would each family member know what to do?

In order to prepare your family, make some of the decisions before disaster is knocking on your door. Everyone needs a plan for work, school and home.

Where do you begin? For some, the most important aspect of any emergency plan is to make sure each family member is as safe and secure as possible. Most families want to be together in an emergency. The second most important aspect of the emergency plan is to make sure that you have everything you need to survive the immediate disaster period. A third aspect may be to contact an out-of-town friend or family member to let them know about your family's safety.

What more do you need to do? Talk with other adult family members. Discuss the plan with teens and children. Find out what everyone's concerns and fears are, and then try to address each of them in your disaster preparations. Remind your family that you are being preventive and prepared - not paranoid or scared.

Ask yourself and your family a few questions beginning with who, what, when, where, why and how.

  • Who: Who is included in this plan? Relatives across town? Close friends? Just immediate family members? Family pets?
  • Where: Home is where the heart is, and it's probably going to be the center of your family plan. But what are the backup locations? It might be the nearby house of worship, the closest elementary school or a close friend's home. The point is to decide on the backups and make sure everyone knows what and where they are.
  • What: What will trigger the emergency plan? An official announcement? Notification from authorities to people in your immediate area? A call from one of the adults to all the others involved? A call from a child's school? Remember to think about how other family members will be notified.
  • When: What time frames do your plan involve? Does everyone work or go to school within a few miles? If so, people should be at home fairly quickly. If some people have a long commute, they may be delayed by emergency conditions. How do you cope if the emergency is expected to last several days?
  • Why: Family members should understand, to the best of their ability, why the plan includes certain provisions. Why must children stay at school under certain circumstances, for example? Why might a parent stay out of town if on travel during an emergency?
  • How: This gets down to the steps of the plan. Think through key points. Who will take which responsibilities? Where will emergency supplies be kept? How will supplies be updated? What about the family link-up plan - how will it be updated? What different steps are involved in a "shelter in place" situation versus an evacuation order? What if there is no information from authorities? What training do family members need? How often will the family review its plan?

Strategies and Tactics to Consider

Strategies and tactics to consider in developing a family emergency plan include the following:

  • Make sure everyone has phone and contact information for each family member involved in the emergency plan. Keep in mind that e-mail may work where phone circuits are overloaded.
  • Identify places to meet near the house and farther away. Set an order of priority about which place to go, why and when.
  • Establish an out-of-town contact that everyone can call and report to. Make sure that this person agrees to serve as that contact. You might consider prepaid phone cards for everyone.
  • Keep vehicles in good working order and keep the gas tank at least half full at all times.
  • Stockpile a disaster kit in advance and refresh supplies at least every six months. Consider seasonal changes in your family's needs. For example, you might want to have more blankets available in the fall and winter.
  • Know how to safely turn off the water, electricity, and gas service to your home.
  • "What if" your plan. What if a major roadway is blocked? What if power is out and the car is low on gas? What if you can't contact one of your family members?
  • What local situations in your neighborhood or community might result in evacuation?
  • Find out about plans that link with yours. What plans do children's schools have in place? What plans are in place where you and other adults work? Make sure school and workplace have updated contact information for all members of your family.
  • How might your family work together with neighbors to prepare and survive an emergency? Are there neighbors with special needs? Who could help them? Talk together; share the skills and equipment you could make available to each other. Devise ways you could help each other's families if the need arises.
  • Review the plan as a group every few months. Consider holding family rehearsals or drills.
  • Don't forget to update the plan to account for new schools children attend, changes in job locations or employers, and the like.
  • Maintain important documents at an off-site location, (safety deposit box, etc.), and back up any computer records that you may have, and store a copy off-site as well.

Stocking Your Emergency Kit

Following is a list of items that should be in each kit. This list is only a starting point for supplying your kit. Your kit may need to be customized in order to meet special needs. Think about your emergency kit this way - you and your family should put together all that you would need to camp out for three days. Assume you'll be out of reach of electricity and running water.

For each person, you should have the following:

  • Water - one gallon per day, per person. 2 quarts for drinking, 2 quarts for cooking and hygiene.
  • Food - enough for three meals per day, per person. Try to keep on hand canned foods or other prepared foods that don't require cooking or a lot of added water. Stock some energy bars and dried fruit, for portability.
  • Clothing - at least two or three complete sets of clothing. Switch them off seasonally when you recheck stored supplies. Include rain gear (even disposable ponchos can help) for everyone and sweaters or heavy coats if the next six months' weather demands it.
  • Medicines
    • Medium- to large-size first-aid kit
    • First-aid instruction book
    • Extra bandages, gauze compresses, and first-aid tape
    • Antiseptic wipes, creams, etc., as needed
    • Pain relief medicines, antacids, cough medicines (including infants' or children's, if appropriate)
    • Three to four days' supply of medications for each person who is on a regular medical regimen (store copies of prescriptions, if possible)
    • Disposable latex gloves and household bleach (for disinfection as needed)
  • Bedding - one sleeping bag, or blanket and pillow, per person (more for cold weather); one bath towel per person; and (possibly) inexpensive deflated air mattresses.
  • Personal Items - toilet paper, Handi-wipes, soap, detergent, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, sanitary supplies, etc.
  • Flashlight and Radio -- keep a flashlight with extra batteries, along with a portable radio. Do not store the batteries in the device; corrosion could take place, due to the high level of humidity in our area. Keep the batteries in the original packaging for best results. Rotate the batteries every six months; use the older batteries for your everyday battery-powered items.

This list is not in any way exhaustive; however, these items could sustain you and your family for several days in an emergency. Making a plan in advance could save your lives in the event of an emergency.

Remember, "When you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

For any further information on developing your Family Emergency Plan, please call 965-2203 and ask for Neighborhood Watch. The Bossier Sheriff's Office will be happy to help you with your Family Emergency Plan. Don't wait until disaster strikes. Put a plan together today.