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1.) Maintain a storm shelter. For most this can be a basement or cellar connected to the house. For others it is a dedicated structure designed specifically for tornado survival. If neither of these is available, know the location of the nearest shelter. There are companies that specialize in constructing storm shelters, such as Tornado Alley Armor, that can retrofit safe rooms and exterior structures.

2.) Assemble an emergency kit. This should include a serious flashlight such as those from SureFire or Fenix, an emergency weather radio like the Midland ER102, blankets, water, non-perishable food, first-aid supplies, batteries, dry clothes and any medications needed. You are encouraged to use a hand-crank radio and flashlight as well. If storm damage is severe, you will be without power for some time.

3.) Have an emergency plan with your family. This is especially important for children, as a tornado is nothing short of horrifying. Most schools in the Midwest actually have tornado drills. Use these drill structures as a point from which to expand.

4.) Develop a phone tree of important contacts. If a tornado hits, it will be important to get in touch with family and friends.

5.) Know the warning signs. As afternoon thunderstorms begin to develop, listen to the radio and watch the weather. One odd characteristic of tornado development is sky color. While not an exact science, a pale green sky has been associated with tornadoes for decades. This, accompanied by an uncomfortable stillness in the air, is a sign that tornadoes may form. Along with large hail and low-flying clouds, these are signs to watch for.

6.) Heed warnings and seek shelter when a tornado warning is announced. Stop whatever you are doing and head to the shelter. If a tornado shelter is not available, use a basement. In a building with no basement, seek shelter in small rooms near the center of the structure. Bathrooms are a recommended location because you can lie in the bathtub. Regardless of where you go, stay low and cover yourself. If you are in a vehicle and a tornado is imminent, exit the vehicle and find the lowest area possible. Ditches and drainage areas are safer than your car.

7.) Protect yourself from flying debris by using items such as mattresses and heavy blankets. This is not to be taken lightly, as items such as bricks and glass quickly become airborne. Some officials go so far as to recommend wearing a motorcycle or football helmet if available.

8.) Stay in your shelter until an “all clear” has been sounded. When weather is bad, multiple tornadoes can appear.

9.) Exit your shelter slowly. Flying debris can land anywhere and power lines will more than likely be everywhere.

10.) Turn off all utilities immediately. This can help avoid the fire danger that always follows tornadoes.

11.) Do not light a match or any other flame. Tornadoes can rip gas lines apart, allowing small areas to be filled with natural gas or propane. The fire and explosion dangers following a tornado are real.

12.) Treat injured neighbors with first aid. Do not move severely injured people unless it is absolutely necessary. Notify emergency services immediately and get professional help.

13.) Avoid standing water. Damage and flooding in sewer systems can contaminate the water remaining after a tornado.

14.) Do not enter damaged buildings. Structural damage to buildings can seem minor to the untrained eye, yet it can still be very dangerous.

15.) Use spray paint to mark your house number for rescue workers. For some this may seem unnecessary, but to those who have experienced tornadoes it is understandable. Every landmark and street sign associated with your neighborhood may be gone. It is helpful to rescue workers if you can provide a reference for your location.

16.) Use cell phones sparingly, as circuits will be overloaded. Contact family to give them your status, but avoid staying on the phone. Limited phone usage will preserve your phone battery as well.

17. Wear sturdy boots, long-sleeve shirts and pants. Broken glass, smashed blocks and exposed steel have the potential to cause injury. Protect yourself.

18.) Check your home for structural damage. Chimneys and roofs are particularly susceptible to damage.

19.) Check all family members from head to toe for injury. During a high-stress event, many people may not know that they have been injured.

20.) Monitor emergency radio frequencies for information on rescue efforts and weather conditions.


This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 issue of SURVIVOR’S EDGE TM . Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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