Editorial: Prepare for the worst

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 12:10 a.m.

Schools across Rowan County and the rest of North Carolina will practice a tornado drill this morning, timely preparation for the state’s peak tornado season of March, April and May. Students will learn by doing — something public safety experts say adults should practice today too.

This may be the peak season, but tornadoes can strike at any time of year. In November 2011, a Lexington woman and her granddaughter died when a twister ripped through their house, leaving only the foundation. The deaths were tragic reminders that, even in this age of technology, the forces of nature have humans at their mercy.

Technology, communication and preparation can heavily increase odds of surviving an encounter with a tornado or severe storm — a good thing to note during Severe Weather Awareness Week. The National Weather Service’s ability to track changes in weather is a tremendous help, especially with the media and the Internet quickly spreading the word. The Weather Service issues watches when conditions are right for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes; it issues warnings when a tornado has been sighted.

To receive email notices about weather problems headed for Rowan County, go to www.ReadyRowan.org, click on the “Alert” button and register. This service is available at no charge as part of the county’s emergency management plan. The website also offers information on how to prepare for a storm.

Businesses that need information on how to conduct an annual tornado drill should contact Rowan County Emergency Services at 704-216-8900.

Just knowing a storm is headed this way is not enough. “Lives can be saved when you know where to go and what to do in the event of a real emergency,” says Frank Thomason, chief of emergency services and coordinator for emergency management for Rowan County.

Safety tips

ReadyNC and the N.C. Department of Public Safety share these tips about what to do:

In a house: Seek shelter on the lowest possible floor or in the basement. Under the stairs or in a bathroom or closet are good shelter spots. Do not open or close windows, stay away from them. Crouch on the floor in the egg position.

In a mobile home: Even with tie-downs, mobile homes are particularly vulnerable to damage from high winds. Go to a prearranged shelter when the weather turns bad. If no shelter is available, go outside and lie on the ground in a ditch or depression. Use your arms to protect your head and neck and wait for the storm to pass. Be alert for the flash floods that sometimes accompany tornadoes.

At work: Seek shelter on the lowest possible floor or a basement, if there is a basement. Stairwells, bathrooms and closets are good spots. Stay away from windows. As a last resort, crawl under your desk.

At school: Seek shelter in interior hallways, small closets and bathrooms. Stay away from windows. Get out of mobile classrooms. Stay out of gymnasiums, auditoriums and other rooms with a large expanse of roof. Bus drivers should be alert for bad weather on their routes.

At the mall: Seek shelter against an interior wall, such as an enclosed hallway or fire exit leading away from the main mall concourse. Stay away from skylights and large open areas.

In a vehicle: If you see a funnel cloud or hear a tornado warning issued, get out of your vehicle and find safe shelter. If no shelter is available, lie down in a low area using your arms to cover the back of your head and neck. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car.

Anywhere: Listen to the radio, local television, weather channel or a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) radio for information.

North Carolina had 21 tornados with 22 injuries last year, according to the National Weather Service. Storms did even more damage; the 1,200 severe thunderstorms that passed through the state led to the deaths of six people and injuries to 46 others. Take severe weather warnings seriously and be prepared.

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