Few events put the power of nature on display like tornadoes. With the recent destructive tornadoes in the Midwest and South, it’s timely for all property owners to review tornado safety.
Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes appear quickly and do not follow any forecast-ed paths. Panic and confusion among tenants can set in unless prior planning and procedures have been established. Tornadoes are unlike other emergencies such as fires because tenants need to stay in the building during the emergency, and actually use the building for protection. My friend Scruffy says that his steel-reinforced doghouse is a good tornado shelter. I told him unless he plans to reenact The Wizard of Oz; he should probably go somewhere else…
Preparations Before a Storm Occurs
“Warning” or “Watch:” The first alert regarding tornadoes is a “tornado watch,” which simply means the conditions are right for tornadoes to form. A “tornado warning” means that a twister has either touched down or been spotted on meteorological radar. I’m waiting for a “bacon storm” to show up on radar one day, although that might just be an urban legend.
- Consider installing a warning system that works in conjunction with fire alarms. Make sure that tenants can easily identify the two types of warnings, so they can plan properly. Remember that outside sirens are not intended to be heard indoors. We pooches can hear them, but we don’t know how to tell you people to take cover!
- Establish tracking and warning procedures so tenants have enough time to properly prepare for storms.
- Shatter resistant glass, made of Plexiglass or acrylic substances, can greatly reduce the risk of flying debris including broken glass. This is especially important when tornadoes strike unexpectedly and tenants do not have time to move to the interior of the building.
- Designate a building area as a tornado shelter. Make sure the area is large enough to accommodate all tenants including any pets. FEMA has guidelines on how to select the area in a building that is best suited for a shelter. If possible, investigate ways to reinforce the area through structural improvements, making sure to minimize the amount of materials/projectiles that are in the area.
During the Storm
Personal Safety and Evacuation:
- Tenants should move away from windows and proceed to the interior of the building, moving to the lowest floors possible.
- Instruct tenants to use stairs, as power to the elevators will very likely be out.
- Tenants should be advised to cover their heads at all times in order to prevent injury from falling objects. I can’t really do this while trotting. Maybe someone could get me a hardhat?
- Establishing safety procedures for employees who are physically disabled will save valuable time.
- Tornadoes form around severe thunderstorms, which lead to lightning! If time permits, tenants should unplug sensitive computer and television equipment to prevent the risk of fire.
After the Storm
- Listen to a NOAA weather radio or check websites to be sure there are no longer tornadoes or severe thunderstorms in the area. Remember you may be safer in a slightly damaged building than risking exposure to lightning!
- Tenants should evacuate the building according to the designated evacuation plan.
- Once outside, everyone should pay special attention to downed power lines and other dangerous debris.
For tornadoes and other emergencies, I always say that preparation is the first step toward ensuring tenant safety. Even though I try to lighten up my blog with jokes, I’m always serious about the need for planning for emergencies. Remember that proper respect for the power of nature can save lives.
For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact the smart people over at RJ Westmore, Inc. Their e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. RJ Westmore, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.