Preparation is an essential element to tornado safety

If a tornado hit Carbondale today, some students say they don’t know what they would do.

Brandon Edingburg, a senior from Chicago studying industrial design, said he would take shelter.

“I guess I would go to the bathroom to hide,” he said.

Edingburg may not be the only student who doesn’t have a plan to prepare for the natural disaster. If people are prepared beforehand, though, Illinois Emergency Management Spokesperson Patti Thompson said they are more likely to know what to do when a storm strikes. Preparation for a tornado, she said, should not be done only before springtime; it should be a year-round priority.

Thompson said in December of 2010, a tornado hit Springfield, where her office is located.

“While we think of tornado season as being March, April, May, the weather service says we’ve had tornadoes in any month of the year, and any time of the day,” she said.

Thompson said families or individuals, including students in university housing, can practice a plan in the case of a storm.

“When a crisis happens, trying to think what rationally you should do doesn’t always come naturally,” she said. “It’s easier if you’ve already thought this through during a calm period and made plans about what you should do.”

She said in seeking shelter for an emergency, people could plan to go to the basement and hide under a table, as long as they know where to meet or where they will go.

She said she has seen instances where a preparedness plan has saved lives.

In central Illinois in 2004, she said a business with 150 employees was hit hard with a large tornado.

“When this tornado slammed into this building … it demolished the building. Cars in the parking lot were just tossed around like toys on top of the building,” she said.

After receiving the first call about the damage, she said she thought there would be mass fatalities.

“And not a single person had a scratch on them because there was a plan in place and they followed their plan,” she said. “They knew what to do, they followed it, and about 150 people survived what normally the weather service told me they would have expected probably close to 100 fatalities out of that building. So I think that goes a long way to saying how important preparedness is whether you’re at home or the office.”

A plan may not be useful if a person doesn’t know a storm has hit, though, and Thompson emphasized the usefulness of a weather radio.

She told a story about a man from Harrisburg, who, after the Wednesday EF4 tornado hit, said he had a weather radio in his home that alerted him to the tornado warning.

“It probably saved his life,” she said.

Thompson also suggests students living off-campus have the alert system available.

“In a dorm, they have some kind of alerting system that they have go over a loud speaker, or the RA’s go up the hall knocking on the doors, but for the people who are off-campus, they probably don’t have the benefit of that,” she said.

For students living in university housing, Department of Public Safety officer Russell Thomas suggests students sign up for the Wireless Emergency Notification System, which sends text message alerts to warn them when a storm is approaching.

Thomas also suggested people be aware of the layout of the building they’re in so they know how to escape.

Thomas said there are Building Emergency Response Teams in a lot of campus building to assist faculty and students to safe areas. Still, he said, students should be accountable for their classmates in case of an emergency, especially those who may have special needs.

If a student is not familiar with the building, he or she should check for emergency exits, look for posters on the wall for storm preparedness plans and read courses’ emergency plan listed on syllabi at the start of the semester.

“These little things like this can be very beneficial when you have a few minutes to respond,” he said.

For Edingburg, a text message alert is the most effective way to reach him, he said, in the case of an emergency. But he said the university’s system has not always worked for him. On Friday, when there was a chance of severe weather in Carbondale, he wasn’t sure whether to go to class.

“One of my friends said there was a notification sent to stay inside, and I’m signed up for the notifications, but I didn’t get one,” he said. “So I emailed my teacher and asked her if we were having class, and she didn’t even know.”

 

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