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  • Be Prepared for Anything this Tornado Season

    Supercell over the Great Plains tornado season Supercell over the Great Plains

    My family used to live on the western side of Tornado Alley. My husband worked as a sheriff’s deputy. When a supercell – the storm system that produces tornadoes – developed, he had to follow it. First, he needed to make sure a tornado wasn’t developing or heading toward a population center. Second, he needed to close roads to keep amateur tornado chasers away from a tornado’s path. With good reason. Our family once followed a wall cloud during a tornado warning and it seemed like half the town was on the road with us.

    On April 21, NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center used the phrase “Severe weather outbreak possible” to describe an April 26 forecast for potential major storms in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Six days in advance they forecast a moderate risk of severe storms and tornadoes. This was the earliest in advance the center had ever used that phrase, according to SPC representative Keli Pirtle, in a story by the Associated Press.

    That’s useful for emergency managers but might be counterproductive for others. In a study published in 2011, researchers found a longer warning time before a tornado would make more than 44 percent of respondents feel that the situation was less life threatening.

    Also, four times more people said they would try to flee, which could be dangerous. On May 31, 2013, according to the AP story, the widest tornado recorded killed eight people west of Oklahoma City. A National Weather Service assessment said all eight were in their vehicles.

    "Everyone had always thought that increasing lead time was good," Kim Klockow, a visiting scientist at NOAA headquarters told the AP. "People just don't like to be sitting ducks."

    So, why provide a forecast with such a long lead time? One meteorologist told the AP he wanted people to take the time to prepare.

    "Can they go out and buy a weather radio this weekend? Can you vacuum the spider webs out of your storm shelter?" asked Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman. "It's April. We're in Oklahoma and Texas. We need to be doing this anyway."

    Here are some ways to prepare for tornado season.

    Home & Tornado seasonFirst, have a plan and a place to go. That place can be in a home, in a personal storm shelter or in a public storm shelter. Seventy percent of respondents to the 2011 study said they had a tornado action plan. However, only 53 percent said they had a place to take shelter.

    Second, get a battery-powered or hand-cranked weather radio.

    Third, prepare a grab-and-go bag and personalize it. After the Japanese earthquake on April 18, 2016, Reuters reported shortages at shelters.

    "There's no milk and only the diapers we brought with us. Once they run out, there's nothing." one woman with a two-month-old told TV Asahi, according to the Reuters story.

    Fourth, keep copies of vital information stored offsite or easy to grab. When an apartment building burned in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 30, the Red Cross offered preloaded debit cards to victims, according to the New York Times. However, to get the cards, the building’s residents had to have identification. One woman who ran out of her apartment without her ID fortunately remembered her employer had a copy. Not everyone was as lucky.

    Vital information can also include birth certificates, medical records and insurance information.

    Fifth, be prepared for more than just tornadoes. During the May 2013 tornado, according to the NWS repot, one woman said she and seven other people were sheltering in a cellar when it began filling with water from a flash flood.

    “We stayed in there until the water got too high,” she said. “We just hoped the tornado was over by that point.”

    Sixth, be cautious. After you’ve been through several tornado warnings, it’s easy to be blasé.

    Tornado's Coming! Tornado season


    Please don’t try what that above meme suggests. And if you must chase a tornado, obey law enforcement and stay out of its path. Four of the people killed during the May 31, 2013 Oklahoma tornado were storm chasers, three of whom were experienced professionals.


    How are you preparing for tornado season? Let us know in the comments!


    Disaster_Blog_Banner tornado season

  • Why You Should Drop Cover and Hold On During an Earthquake

    Within 50 years from now, scientists predict a large earthquake to strike Utah.

    Wasatch Fault Sign - Drop cover and hold onWith a 43% chance of a magnitude 6.75 or higher within that time frame, those in Utah really don’t have that much longer to prepare, all things considered. That’s why ShakeOuts are held every year, to help prepare the people to be as safe as possible during an earthquake.

    Utah is the only state to hold a ShakeOut in April (the other states hold theirs in October), and on April 21, 2016, another of these state-wide earthquake drills was conducted.

    Thousands of students, businesses, and homeowners – nearly a million in total – went through the motions of dropping, covering, and holding on – the suggested procedure to avoiding injury during a quake. Here’s why we drop, cover, and hold on during an earthquake.



    DROP Cover and Hold OnYou never know how strong an earthquake is going to be. Even the first small jolt could be just the beginning of “the big one,” in which case you most certainly do not want to be on your feet. When the earth starts swaying, you can be knocked down quite easily. This is, of course, dangerous. Don’t wait to see if it’s “the big one” or not. Get down on the ground as quickly and safely as you can as soon as you feel the quake.

    Do your best to avoid exterior walls, windows, mirrors, and areas where heavy objects could fall on you. If you’re in bed, hold on and stay where you are. If you are outdoors, move to an open, clear area if you are able to safely do so. Steer clear of trees, power lines, and other hazards.



    Drop COVER and Hold onOnce you’ve dropped safely to the ground, the next step is to protect yourself from falling objects. The best thing you can do is hide under a table or desk, but make sure your cover is sturdy. It won’t do much good if your table will just collapse on top of you.

    If you don’t have access to a desk, table, or similar shelter, then use your arms to cover your head and neck. Those two areas can be the most dangerous if struck by falling objects. Contrary to popular belief, standing in a doorway is not recommended. In modern homes, doorways are just as stable (or weak) as the rest of the home. There is also always a danger of flying objects caused by the earthquake, and by standing in a doorway you are opening yourself up to that danger. So stay down, and stay covered!


    Hold On

    Drop cover and HOLD ONEarthquake do just what their name implies – they shake the earth violently. If you’re not holding on to something during this shaking, you could be jolted around, thereby causing you more harm and injury. If you’re under a table or desk, grab hold of the legs or brace yourself against your cubicle walls (if you’re in an office).

    Once the earthquake stops, don’t run. Violent aftershocks could knock you off your feet. Once outside, again, stay away from power lines, trees, buildings, signs, and other potential hazards should another tremor come and knock things over.


    Being safe in an earthquake means starting now to prepare. Fasten down any objects that could fly off the walls or shelves. Anchor book cases to the wall. Find potential dangers in your home and take care of them. If you have a mantle over your bed, don’t keep any heavy objects on it, as they could fall on you during an earthquake.

    Likewise, prepare now with emergency food, water, gear, and other supplies. If an earthquake is strong enough, you could be left without those basic necessities, so at least have a 72 hour kit will keep you going until more help can arrive.

    Take the time today to prepare for an earthquake. They come without warning, and once they do, it’s too late to prepare.

    Just remember to drop cover and hold on!


    Earthquake Banner - Call to Action - Drop cover and hold on

  • What We Learned from the Kumamoto Earthquake

    Kumamoto Quake - Photo by Kyodo Kumamoto Earthquake - Photo by Kyodo

    On April 14, 2016, Japan was hit by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake. While not as strong as the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that happened back in 2011, there was still plenty of damage inflicted.

    This 6.4 earthquake struck Southern Japan, near Kumamoto, Kyushu around 9:26 at night local time. Sources report power outages occurred in areas near the epicenter. Water was also cut off in certain areas. Damages weren’t catastrophic, but included fallen bookshelves, vases, and other things not secured. Some areas, however, saw house walls collapse, possibly trapping people inside.

    There are nuclear power plants in the region, but they appear to be unaffected by the earthquake.

    Not only do earthquakes cause immediate damage, they also bring about more lasting effects. In this most recent earthquake, news sources reported power outages and cut off water supplies. While the damage wasn’t terrible, the ensuing absence of resources could create other problems.



    As seen in this latest Kumamoto earthquake, these rattlings can cut off your water supply, be it a broken water main or some other way.

    Broken Water Main Cleaning up after a broken water main caused by an earthquake - Photo by Beth Schlanker

    Without water, it will be much more difficult to remain healthy and strong. And during an emergency such as this, you’re going to need all the health and strength you can get. Hopefully you have water stored in barrels, jugs, or other containers to keep yourself hydrated until your water comes back on. If not, there are other ways to collect drinking water.

    Gather extra emergency water from ice cubes, toilet tanks (make sure there is no sanitizer or other chemicals in it), or even your water heater. Some sources of water may need to be filtered and treated (such as from the water heater), but at least in an emergency you will have a little extra water to keep you going.

    Aside from drinking, sewage lines may be damaged, so before flushing your toilet, be sure to make sure those lines aren’t damaged. Otherwise it could make a big mess. Likewise, if your water pipes are broken, you may need to turn off your water at the main valve. Failure to do this could result in a flooded home.



    Earthquakes have a nasty habit of knocking out power when they strike. If this happens during the day, that’s not so terrible. But when it happens at night, that’s when things can get scary.

    No power means no light, and when buildings collapse and bookshelves and other unsecured belongings crash to the ground, it becomes something of a minefield. Broken glass, bits of brick and stone and other small and large shrapnel on the ground can become hazards when trying to evacuate a building or otherwise navigate in and out of doors.

    Downed Power Lines - via News on 6 Photo via News on 6

    There may be downed power lines following the shaking. Steer clear of these, and do not try to move them. They could still be live and touching one could have deadly consequences.

    No power also means more difficulty in keeping your food fresh. Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors shut as much as possible to keep the cold air contained. Next, use your most perishable foods first. Doing this will help spread out your food usage longer than just eating what sounds good at the time.



    While not necessarily mentioned as something that was a problem after this Japan earthquake, it most certainly can become one. If you smell gas in your home, shut off your gas at your meter, open the windows, and leave. Only shut off your gas valve if there is a leak, because in order to get it turned back on, you’ll need someone from the gas company to come and do it for you.

    But whatever you do, don’t look for a gas leak with candles, matches, or any other open flame. Doing so could cause your house to explode.


    Safety First

    No matter how strong or weak an earthquake, always put the safety of you and others first. You never know what kind of damage a building has sustained, so practice caution in the wake of an earthquake. Aftershocks are also prone to happen hours, days, or even weeks after the initial quake, so it would be best not to stay in any building with compromised integrity.


    Earthquake Banner - Call to Action


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