DENVER – A year ago Tuesday, on May 20, an EF5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 and leaving a 17-mile trail of destruction.
The anniversary is a poignant reminder of the importance of preparing for tornadoes, point out emergency managers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The United States gets 75 percent of the world’s tornadoes, on average more than 1,100 per year.
FEMA’s Ready.gov website (http://www.ready.gov/) provides these suggestions for what to do before, during and after a tornado:
- Build an emergency kit and make a family communications plan.
- Listen to electronic media for the latest information. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.
- Be alert to changing weather conditions. Look for approaching storms.
- Look for the danger signs: a dark, often greenish sky; large hail; a large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating); and a loud roar, similar to a freight train.
- If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.
If you are under a tornado warning, seek shelter immediately! Most injuries associated with high winds are from flying debris, so remember to protect your head.
If you are in a building, go to a pre-designated area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of a small interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. In a high-rise building, go to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. Do not open windows.
If you are in a manufactured home or office, get out immediately and go to a pre-identified location such as the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.
If you are outside with no shelter, there is no single research-based recommendation for what last-resort action to take because many factors can affect your decision. Possible actions include:
- Immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If your vehicle is hit by flying debris while you are driving, pull over and park.
- Take cover in a stationary vehicle. Put the seat belt on and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
- Lie in an area noticeably lower than the level of the roadway and cover your head with your arms and a blanket, coat or other cushion if possible.
- Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location.
- Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter.
- Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.
- Check for injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Get medical assistance immediately. If someone has stopped breathing, begin CPR if you are trained to do so. Stop a bleeding injury by applying direct pressure to the wound. Have any puncture wound evaluated by a physician. If you are trapped, try to attract attention to your location.
- A study of tornado damage in Marion, Illinois, showed half of all tornado-related injuries came after the tornado, from rescue attempts, clean up, and so forth. Almost a third of the injuries came from stepping on nails.
- Wear sturdy shoes or boots, long sleeves and gloves when handling or walking on or near debris.
- Be very careful when entering any damaged structure, and use battery-powered light if possible rather than candles to minimize the danger of fire or explosions.
- Be alert to the danger of fire, electrocution or explosions from damaged power and gas lines.
- Continue to monitor your battery-powered radio or television for emergency information.
- Never use any gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper, or even outside near an open window, door or vent. Carbon monoxide – an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe it –can build up inside any enclose space and poison the people and animals inside. Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed or nauseated.
Research shows that most people wait until bad news is confirmed by a second source before taking action. With tornadoes, act first, emergency officials warn. Take shelter yourself, then be the second source that confirms the emergency for others by phone or social media.
A timeline of some of the most significant tornadoes to affect the six-state region covered by FEMA’s Denver regional office, with links for more information, is available at http://www.fema.gov/fema-region-8-tornado-timeline.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.