Anyone who lives in a tornado zone knows the uncertainty that an impending storm can bring. Protect your family and your home with these expert tips for tornado safety plans.
The United States averages around 1,200 tornadoes per year. Notoriously difficult to predict, tornadoes often leave a wake of destruction in their path. Although tornadoes usually take place in a 10-state zone across the South and Midwest, tornadoes can crop up anywhere, depending on weather conditions. With 100-mile-per-hour winds, torrential rain and hail, and dangerous flying debris, a tornado is something to take seriously.
To help protect you, your family, and your home from a tornado, it’s a good idea to develop safety plans for tornados, so you’re ready before they hit. Here are some tips.
1. Create a Disaster Kit.
Even though “disaster kit” can sound alarming, knowing that you have one in your tornado plan will help you feel prepared for even the worst-case scenario. Long before a tornado heads your way, be proactive and make your own disaster kit that includes the following:
A minimum three-day supply of water, providing one gallon of water per person per day. Be sure to include extra water for pets.
Prescription medications, contact lenses, backup glasses, and any other necessary medical supplies.
A first aid kit, especially one including bandages and antiseptic cleansers.
Enough non-perishable food to last at least three days—and remember to include a can opener in your disaster kit.
Pet food supply for at least three days.
A flashlight or lantern and batteries.
At least one change of clothes and shoes for each member of your family.
Blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows.
A few hundred dollars in cash.
Printed, laminated copies of important documents and papers.
Cell phone chargers and power banks.
A battery-powered emergency radio, TV, or similar device equipped to receive broadcasts from the National Weather Service.
Once you have acquired these items for your disaster kit, you should pack them in a water- and weather-proof container and store it in a safe, accessible location.
2. Create a Family Communications Guide.
The next step to creating a tornado plan for your home is to document all work and school addresses and all phone numbers for immediate household members. Include contact information for any extended family who may live in the vicinity and be affected by a tornado. Include social media contacts in your guide. If services have been significantly disrupted, the best way to reach someone might be through Facebook or Twitter.
Print and laminate copies of this guide for each member of your family. You can also create pocket versions about the size of a credit card and carry them in your wallet or purse.
3. Follow Evacuation Plans.
You can install several apps on your phone, such as the American Red Cross tornado app, that will alert you to changing weather conditions and provide you with fair warning to escape a dangerous location. You should also stay tuned to local weather stations, particularly if you live in a tornado zone, so you can be aware of tornado watches and warnings. If you believe that a tornado is headed your way, follow the tornado evacuation plans recommended for your location.
Still, even the most astute weather observer can be caught by a surprise tornado. Unlike hurricanes or blizzards, tornadoes often crop up in the blink of an eye.
It’s time to seek shelter if you notice
A particularly dark or greenish sky
Big, low-lying, dark clouds
Intense rain followed by an eerie calm
A strong shift in wind direction or air temperature
Debris moving through the air as if of its own accord
The distinct tornado roar—which usually sounds like a continuous rumble, a deep roar, or a nonstop whirring noise
4. Know What to do During a Tornado.
If you find yourself in the midst of an official tornado watch or warning or if you witness the signs of a tornado, that means you must take shelter.
Your tornado plan for the home should involve protecting you and your family as much as possible: most serious and fatal injuries that happen during a tornado are caused by falling and flying debris. While there is no truly safe place during a tornado, it’s important to choose ahead of time the safest place in your home for seeking shelter.
Stay as low as possible. Basements, cellars, and tornado or bomb shelters are the safest places to shelter during a tornado. If you don’t have one of these in your home, go to an interior room on the lowest floor. Anything below-ground will offer the most reliable protection from a tornado.
Avoid windows, flat roofs, and external doors. These can fly off from the force of a tornado’s wind and injure anyone nearby.
Stay in the center of the room. Although it might feel safer to be in the corner of a room, debris is more likely to hit you in a corner than in the center of the room.
Stay under something sturdy and take cover. If possible, seek shelter under a heavy table or workbench. Cover your body with a mattress, blanket, sleeping bag, or pillow. Protect your head with whatever you have available.
5. Know What to do After a Tornado
Experiencing a tornado can be scary and unnerving. Having a tornado plan for what you should do ahead of time will help you stay calm during the tornado and allow you to know what to do when it’s over, even if you are still recovering from the shock.
The first thing you should do is make sure that the storm has fully passed and that there are no other tornadoes in your vicinity. To do this, listen for weather reports on the emergency radio or TV in your disaster kit.
Once you are certain that the tornado is no longer around, look at your immediate surroundings. Do any of your family members, housemates, or neighbors require medical attention? If so, seek emergency help as soon as possible. For minor injuries, you can provide first aid using the first aid kit in your disaster kit. Any major injury, including possible concussions, should be treated by a medical professional—do not move the injured person on your own. Be sure to notify the injured person’s family and friends about their situation.
Next, shut off your utility services and evacuate if your home has been damaged in the tornado. You may have a gas leak or another undetectable issue, so it is best to evacuate until emergency officials can conduct safety inspections. If your home is damaged, you may need to live in a hotel or with friends until it has been approved for habitation by officials.
If you have no other option but to stay in your damaged home, make sure that you are prepared with a fire safety plan, since tornadoes can sometimes cause electrical system damage that leads to electrical fires. You may experience pipe leaks due to tornado damage, so inquire with local officials about how to access potable water. If there is a power outage in your area, here are some tips for how to heat a house without electricity.
Remember that many organizations are prepared to help you in case of disaster. For example, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and FEMA offer emergency and disaster assistance, including supplies, food, clothing, and even temporary lodging.
Understanding Your Homeowners Insurance Policy
Your homeowners insurance policy may cover tornado damage caused to your home, depending on your location, type of insurance coverage, and the cause of damage. As soon as you’re able, contact your insurance company to alert them of the situation and file a claim for the damage caused to your home by the tornado. Having your homeowners insurance policy documents, claim forms, and a list of the valuables in your home compiled ahead of time (this is the “important documents” part of your disaster kit) will allow you to streamline the claims process.
While a good homeowners insurance policy should protect your home in case of an emergency such as a tornado, it’s also key to have home warranty coverage to ensure that your home’s systems and appliances are protected from breakdowns due to normal wear and tear. While an American Home Shield® home warranty is not intended for use in emergencies, it can empower you to feel confident in your home year-round.
The most important thing to do when you live in a tornado zone is to create a tornado safety plan, so your family and your home will be as safe as possible. Always stay aware of the weather, seek shelter in case of a tornado, and know what steps to take during the post-tornado recovery period.