3 min read

Do this, and Tornado Alley experts (almost) guarantee you'll survive

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"Make a plan!" 

We see this advice in every storm readiness class, article, and media post. Like "get exercise" or "eat healthy food," we know preparing for deadly storms is a critical life task. Yet one study found only 19% of families have discussed emergency activities. Fewer have a basic disaster kit. 

Is it possible to improve the chances of surviving extreme weather events by fixing just one mistake instead of trying to get people to focus on a checklist that seems daunting? 

Emergency experts from Tornado Alley's most severely impacted counties took time out of their hectic schedules to speak with Merit and share insights about "bare-minimum" planning. After facing some of the world's most violent storms, they agree the common denominator for most fatalities was a missing shelter plan. 

Surviving a tornado is virtually impossible without access to a structure that can withstand 200+ mph winds and shield from flying debris weighing several tons. 

A simple shelter plan often decides who lives and who is lost in Tornado Alley. It clarifies ahead of time:

  • where to shelter 
  • when to shelter
  • the commitment to go when they planned to...no matter what

Know where to go

The National Weather Service makes it easy to remember safe-shelter choice basics:

  • Get In - If you are outside, get inside. If you're already inside, get as far into the middle of the building as possible.
  • Get Down - Get underground if possible. If you cannot, go to the lowest floor possible.
  • Cover Up - Flying and falling debris are a storm's number one killer. Use pillows, blankets, coats, helmets, etc to cover up and protect your head and body from flying debris.

"We want folks to have a 'muscle memory' reflex that comes from knowing where you will head during a tornado. People need to have identified the safest rooms in their homes so that they go there automatically when the storm warnings sound."

Ms. Julie Stimson

Sedgwick County, Kansas

"The most important thing families and businesses have to discuss is where they will go when there is a tornado warning."

Mr. Ronald Sigman

Adams County, Colorado

"In Oklahoma, programs provide funding so families can build safe, FEMA-approved shelters at home. This is the best situation."

"It’s so important for businesses to be sure their employees are prepared to shelter. We know businesses struggle to stay open. If you make sure your people  are safe, not only will they and their families survive, this helps make the whole community be resilient."

Keli Cain

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security

Know when to go

It's critical to pay attention to developing weather conditions near your location and shelter access. If you’ll have to travel, waiting for "tornado warning" sirens might not leave enough time to arrive safely. 

Alerting vulnerable community members without access to technology or whose primary language is not used for official communications should be a vital component of inclusive management. 

"If you plan on using a public shelter, you need to go very early."

Keli Cain

Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security

"It's so important for people to realize that it takes time to get to a shelter. You need to determine ahead of time not only where you are going to go, but especially when."

Mr. Ronald Sigman

Adams County, Colorado

"What I worry about more than anything is when people wait until the very last minute to go to public shelters. Someone will have to make that final decision about closing the shelter, and this is heartbreaking. It's important to build the time into your decision when you will leave for the shelter."

Mr. Jerry Roberts

Osage County, Oklahoma

Shelter, not selfies! (Or magical thinking)

"There's nothing worse than being in the command center and hearing folks are out taking pictures of a tornado a block away." 

Managers know people often delay leaving their homes because they believe the storm will not actually strike them, even when they are very close.

"Complacency is what kills so many people. It's tragic, but when years go by, and you never sustain a direct hit, it is easy to think, 'It can't happen here!'” 

"We had 40 minutes warning tornadoes were on the ground. Many people changed their plans and tried to make it home. On the road in your car is the least sheltered place. You can fail to survive if you abandon a good shelter at the last minute." 

Ms. Jillian Rodrigue

Douglas County, Kansas

"Storms are very stressful and cause terrible anxiety. It's hard to stick to a plan when you are terrified. You need to think through that beforehand."

Ms. Cathay Beck

McLean County, Illinois

"When you grow up in Tornado Alley, you hear about shelter from the time you are little. Still, sometimes it is hard to get over the idea that, 'It's not going to happen here.’”

Ms. Julie Stimson

Sedgwick County, Kansas

Plan for shelter, even if you plan for nothing else!

As counties prepare for this year's 700 expected storms, managers would rest a bit easier if, at the very least, families made and followed a simple shelter plan. It will all but guarantee they'll be here after tornado season to exercise and enjoy some vegetables! 

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