Photo Credit: NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory
Benjamin Franklin famously said, “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In our field, an insufficient plan—or worse, no plan at all—can be destructive or even deadly. This is true for workplace incidents as well as severe weather ones like tornadoes.
If you have properly prepared, you can minimize damages and injury risk to your employees in the event of a tornado. This preparation starts with developing a Tornado/Severe Weather Plan of Action and includes details for building a safe room, gathering necessary supplies and educating employees.
Below are several points to consider as you build your Tornado/Severe Weather Action Plan:
- Investigate the risk of tornadoes within your local area or region. Although tornadoes can occur anywhere, the level of risk can vary based on your specific location and the time of year.
- Determine if your area has a community warning system. If it does, clarify when it is used and tested and what it sounds like.
- Set up emergency alerts so you can be prepared for any pending weather concerns. The National Weather Service automatically sends Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to your cell phone, but your local weather station and mobile apps may provide additional mechanisms for setting up notifications. You can also find general information on various government alerts at Ready.gov.
- Establish your facility’s emergency shelter area(s). Mark the area(s) with signs and include their location on your facility’s emergency evacuation maps. The best protection in a tornado is provided by a structure built to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) safe room criteria, or the International Code Council (ICC) 500-2014 storm shelter standards.
- Ensure that your safe shelter area is outfitted with essential features and provisions, including emergency lighting, flashlights, a supply of extra batteries, fire extinguishers, water, basic first aid supplies, NOAA Radios, radios with continuously charging batteries for receiving commercial radio broadcasts and other considerations that suit your location.
- Install or establish a facility tornado emergency notification or alarm system. Develop a backup communication system in case the primary one fails and test both systems regularly.
- Review your facility Emergency Action Plan to ensure it addresses severe weather events. Outline responsibilities within your Emergency Action Plan for verification of all facility areas, notification of employees, seeking shelter and obtaining a headcount.
- Train your employees to recognize the signs of a tornado, understand the difference between tornado watches and warnings, and to be familiar with specific emergency protocols in the event a tornado is approaching your plant or facility.
- Practice your emergency procedures with regularly scheduled tornado drills.
What to do during a tornado:
- Initiatiate the established facility alarm system.
- Emergency action team members should sweep their designated areas to ensure all employees immediately proceed to the established safe shelter locations.
- Once in the shelter areas, employees need to stay calm.
- Employees should cover their head and neck with their arms, kneel down, and face the wall. As feasible, employees should take additional cover by getting under desks, furniture, equipment, blankets or the like.
- Continue to monitor WEA alerts, your NOAA weather radio or other alerting systems for current emergency information or regional instructions.
- All employees should remain in the shelter locations until the weather system has passed, the regional weather service has removed the tornado warning designation, and the leader of the Emergency Action Plan has provided additional direction.
What to do after a tornado:
- Conduct an initial review of employee safety. Use phones or established communication systems to verify the condition of all shelter areas and that employees are safe.
- If employees are injured, initiate your internal first aid response processes. Don’t move anyone who is seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. In these cases, call 911 and seek medical assistance right away.
- Once you have addressed any employee injuries it becomes time to evaluate the condition and safety of the facility. Be careful as you leave your tornado shelters since there might be unseen damage waiting for you on the other side of the doors.
- The Emergency Action Plan Team should carefully review their designated areas to check for things like building damage, equipment concerns, loose power lines, gas leaks, and other structural damage. Team members should proceed with caution through any damaged areas and watch out for hazards, and wear proper personal protective equipment such as eye, hand and foot protection.
- The Emergency Action Team should return to a centralized meeting point near the tornado shelters to review their findings and discuss next steps.
- If the facility did not sustain any considerable damage, the leader of the Emergency Action Plan can announce to the employees that they may return to work.
- If the building was damaged to the point where production is no longer feasible or safe, then employees will need to be informed and exit plans communicated. If observations lead to extreme conditions, such as the smell of gas from broken gas lines or severe flooding, then facility evacuation may be warranted.
- Document the incident so your team and your facility can improve from the overall experience. The Emergency Action Plan Team should meet to review lessons learned and to make any necessary adjustments to your procedures.
Following these simple steps can make the difference between just an unfortunate severe weather event and one with disastrous consequences. If you need further assistance contact your local officials, utilize Ready.gov resources, or contact U.S. Compliance. U.S. Compliance provides safety, health and environmental services to hundreds of facilities in the manufacturing and general industry sector across the country and can help you develop an effective Emergency Action Plan.