Tornado Safety: Know What To Do Before, During and After the Storm

Nov. 19, 2013 - We all know how tremendously destructive a tornado can be, especially after witnessing the deadly force of the recent twisters in the Midwest.

Considered the most destructive force of nature, tornadoes can produce violent winds as high as 250 mph or more and leave merciless paths of destruction. In an average year, about 1,000 tornadoes are reported nationwide.

Although the peak tornado season runs from April to late July, tornados can strike during any season and at any time of the day or night. But there are steps you can take to help keep you and your family safe during a tornado.

Before a Tornado

Before a tornado, you should:

  • Review your insurance policy with your agent to make sure you have sufficient coverage.
  • Know the difference and help your children understand the difference between a tornado watch and warning.
    • Tornado watch: Current weather conditions could create a tornado, so be on the lookout for weather changes.
    • Tornado warning: A tornado has been sighted in your area. Seek shelter immediately, and listen to the radio for further updates. A warning is much more serious than a tornado watch.
  • Prepare a tornado safety kit with your family to store in the basement or designated safety shelter. Include the following items:
    • Battery-operated transistor radio
    • Extra batteries
    • Flashlight
    • Candles
    • Matches
    • Blankets
    • Cash and/or credit cards
    • Spare house/car keys
    • Canned goods and other non-perishables
    • Manual can opener
    • First-aid kit
    • Medicines
    • Bottled water
    • Sturdy Shoes
    • Work gloves
    • Old textbooks to protect your head from debris
    • Important telephone numbers such as emergency contacts, local utility companies, your insurance agent, neighbors, landlords and your bank/credit union
  • Generate an itemized inventory of your furnishings and personal belongings every two to three years, and store it in a safe place such as a fireproof box or safe deposit box at your bank. Erie Insurance’s Household Inventory FormPDF can help you with this task.
  • Know how to turn off utilities – water, gas and electricity – safely at their sources. Mark these on-off switches with identifying tape, or color-code them with a marker.
  • Establish a safety route and common shelter where your family can meet if a tornado hits. Also, include a second way to exit each room or area of your home.

During a Tornado Warning

If there is a tornado warning issued for your area, you should:

  • Seek shelter immediately.
  • Go to a storm cellar, basement or the lowest level of your home/structure. If there is no basement or lower level, go to an inner hallway or smaller, interior room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet.
  • Go to the center of a room. Stay away from corners, as they tend to attract debris.
  • Get underneath a piece of sturdy furniture, such as a heavy table or desk, and hold on to it. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.
  • Stay tuned to a local radio station, and do not head outdoors until authorities declare an "all clear."

After a Tornado

After a tornado, you should:

  • Help injured or trapped persons.
  • Give first aid where appropriate.
  • Do not move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.
  • Avoid loose or dangling power lines, and report them immediately to the power company, police or fire department.
  • Enter your home with caution. Beware of snakes, insects and animals driven to higher ground by floodwater.
  • Open windows and doors to ventilate and dry your home.
  • Check refrigerated foods for spoilage.
  • Take pictures or video of any damage to your house and its contents for insurance claims. Make a list of all damaged and destroyed items.
  • Assess the damage to your home, and make temporary repairs to prevent further destruction. Hold off on making permanent repairs until your insurance adjuster approves your reimbursement.
  • Cover broken windows and damaged roof coverings immediately.
  • Remove standing water from your home.
  • Keep all receipts related to repairs and temporary housing.
  • Drive only if absolutely necessary, and avoid flooded roads and washed-out bridges.
  • Inspect utilities in a damaged home by following these steps:
    • Check for gas leaks. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building. If possible, turn off the gas at the outside main valve, and call the gas company from a neighbor's home.
    • Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker. If you must step in water to get to the fuse box or circuit breaker, call an electrician first for advice.
    • Check for sewage and water line damage. If you suspect sewage lines are damaged, avoid using toilets until you call a plumber. If water pipes are damaged, contact the water company and avoid using tap water. You can obtain safe water by melting ice cubes.

For more information on creating a family emergency plan and maintaining a supply kit, go to ready.gov. To help ensure that you have adequate insurance coverage, contact a local ERIE Agent.

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