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Are You and Your Organization Prepared for Disaster?

Can you prepare for disaster?  If it is a weather related disaster, then the majority of the time the answer is yes. Conditions are right for a weather event and warnings are issued, sometimes days in advance and sometimes minutes.

TORNADO SEASON

I was born during a tornado (sorry, Mom) and grew up in tornado country (Missouri).  Missouri is part of ‘tornado alley’.  Missouri accounts for six of the 25 deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history. In fact, the deadliest tornado in history occurred on March 18, 1925 (no, that’s not the one I was born during).  Known as the Tri-State Tornado, it traveled 219 miles in 3 hours and killed 689 people in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana.  (stormaware.mo.gov

Tornado

Granted, many of the deadliest tornadoes were close to or over 100 years ago.  Many improvements in construction, warning systems and preparedness have taken place, especially in the last 10-20 years.  But the Joplin, Missouri tornado was just 6 years ago – and it was the 7th deadliest tornado in history. While technology has improved to help alert us to danger, there is still a gap between receiving a warning and responding to that warning – and often that gap has to do with preparedness.

WHEN & WHERE TORNADOES HAPPEN

Most tornados historically happen in the spring and early summer (March through July), but in recent years the US has experienced tornadoes in October, November, December, January and February.  They usually occur between 3 pm and 9 pm, but can occur at any time.  Additionally, they are occurring in states you wouldn’t normally associate with tornadoes, such as recent ones in New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia, Massachusetts and Wisconsin.  They are occurring throughout almost the entire year and across a much wider swath of the United States.

20 MINUTES TO PREPARE. IF YOU’RE LUCKY.

The Joplin tornado struck at 5:30 pm.  Sirens went off 20 minutes prior.  It started as an EF1-EF2 (see the Enhanced Fujita scale), and quickly grew. Numerous homes, businesses and medical buildings were flattened.  Concrete walls collapsed.  Steel trusses “rolled up like toilet paper”. Cars that were in the parking lot of a major box retail store were found 400 yards away. Cell phone towers collapsed. The damage and death toll (158) was catastrophic.

20 minutes to prepare. So what do you do? Where do you go? How do you protect yourself, your family or your co-workers? How will you respond?  How will you communicate? Have you made a plan and practiced it? Have you trained? Have new employees started?  Have they trained and practiced?

HOW TO PREPARE FOR EMERGENCIES

Training for any emergency is training you hope you never have to use, but it is training every person and every organization must have.  Where to begin?

  • Have you formed a safety committee and do those committee members know what to do, who they are in charge of, etc.?  Your insurance entity is a great resource for knowledge and guidance when it comes to risk management.  Start there.  You can also find a wealth of info and guidelines on the internet, such as at SHRM.com – Making Safety Committees Work and at OSHA.gov.

  • Develop your emergency plan.  If you and your organization have an emergency plan, great!  If not, that’s step two. Ready.gov/business offers guidance, plans, and exercises to help individuals and organizations prepare.  Beyond weather emergencies, consider and plan for all types of emergencies: water/floods, power outages, cyber threat, active shooter, etc.

  • Designate your Safety leaders, determine what are their responsibilities, and who they are in charge of during emergencies.  Then train, practice, train, practice, etc.

  • Do your employees know who to follow, what to do and not do, where to go, etc.?  Train, practice, train, practice, etc.

  • Every time a new employee starts, train, practice, train, practice, etc. 

LOOKING AHEAD

A much warmer than normal start to 2017 has led to a relatively active tornado period in January and February, according to ustornadoes.com.  NOAA.gov shows five EF3 and one EF4 tornadoes in the first two months of this year. As of today, March 21,  Theweathernetwork.com is predicting a multi-day severe storm risk for the southern plains and deep south. The La Nina year is acting more like an El Nino in some places and not in others. 

It seems over all that predictions are unpredictable.  The certainty is that no matter what the weather is at the moment, at any given time it can change, and at any given time people must be prepared for weather (and other) emergencies, no matter their location.


ADDITIONAL TIPS:

  • If you have a 2012 or newer mobile phone, chances are good that it is already enabled for Weather Emergency Alerts (over 100 mobile carriers participate).  It is a free service from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  No need to download an app.  Messages are sent when they are relevant to your location.
  • If you phone is not WEA-activated, you can sign up for weather alerts to be delivered via your mobile phone via the Weather Channel app, which is free.  Alerts apply to all types of weather events, from Tornadoes to Tsunamis to Hurricanes, and more.
  • Register your phone – cell or landline – for your state/county/municipal Emergency Notification Service. Learn more about Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP).
  • For those who are sight or hearing impaired, WeatherRadios.com focuses on weather radio products and specializes in weather alert accessories for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals including wireless transmitters/receivers, pillow vibrators and strobe lights. Deaf & Hard of Hearing Weather Radio Systems 
  • For many more alert services, visit http://www.weather.gov/subscribe

To read an recount of the Joplin tornado, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Joplin_tornado

 

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