Back to basics: planning is key to tornado preparedness
Back to Basics is a weekly column that highlights important but perhaps overlooked information that every EHS professional should know. This week we take a look at how to prepare for a tornado.
Severe weather events are apparently commonplace these days, but there is something particularly devastating about tornadoes. Especially the unpredictability and the damage they can cause. Despite the unpredictable nature of tornadoes, businesses can take steps to prepare for storms and their aftermath.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have teamed up to provide resources on tornado preparedness. This includes developing an emergency plan that details appropriate places to take shelter, policies to ensure all employees are covered, and procedures for dealing with hazardous materials on site. .
Your planning efforts should include training and exercises so that you and your employees know where to find shelter and are familiar with your community’s warning system. You may need to acquire additional equipment such as emergency supply kits and other resources identified in your emergency plan.
Identifying shelter locations is crucial for tornado preparedness. If you don’t have underground space such as a basement or storm cellar, consider the following alternatives:
- A small interior room or a hallway on the lowest possible floor
- Stay away from doors, windows and exterior walls
- Stay in the center of the room and avoid corners as they can attract debris
- Rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick, or block without windows and heavy concrete floor or overhead roof system
- Avoid auditoriums, cafeterias, and gymnasiums that have flat, long-span roofs
Know what to do
If caught outside with a tornado threatening, employees should seek refuge in a basement or solid building. If you can’t find one within walking distance, drive to the nearest shelter. If you encounter flying debris in a vehicle, either stay in the vehicle with the seat belt and head under the windows, or find an area lower than the roadway and lie down on it while covering your head with your hands. .
OSHA recommends these steps to keep personnel safe in a tornado:
- Develop a system to know who is in the building in an emergency.
- Set up an alarm system to warn workers. Test the system frequently and make plans to communicate warnings to staff with disabilities or who do not speak English.
- Consider workers, visitors, and clients as they arrive at the shelter by using a prepared list or checklist and taking a count.
- Assign specific tasks to workers in advance with checklists for each specific responsibility. Designate and train replacements in case the designated person is not there or is injured.
For more tips on preparing for tornadoes, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.