There is not much good about a hurricane, but if there was a silver lining, it would have to be the fact that we know they are coming. Tornados, on the other hand, can sneak up on us with little or no warning. The small one that just plowed through our community a couple weeks ago gave us no warning. The only thing we had heard was the possibility of straight-line winds that would be in the 50-60 mph range preceding a front. An F1-F2 tornado was not in the forecasts, especially in that our community is situated in the footprint of a small mountain and very hilly ground. Tornados don’t care much for uneven terrain but can still wreak havoc, nonetheless.
As my response to what happened has changed over the last two weeks, one thing is for sure, my family needs a plan just as we plan for hurricanes or house fires. I am going to break down my plan for both, but I will start with a plan for when I have notice, as with hurricanes, then we will address the immediate urgency of a tornado with little or no warning.
You can find no short supply of hurricane facts that will state that the number one killer during these massive storms is drowning. Ocean and inland waters rise fast, and people who become satisfied that their homes can survive wind soon find that water is the real enemy. Hurricanes cause massive storm surge not only by wind-driven waves but also by low pressure.
We all remember the images of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina and the population of New Orleans as they clung to rooftops or attic windows. In the early 1990s, while working as a SAR swimmer with the USCG, I was ring-side to the great mid-west floods. All along the Mississippi, levees would break and literally flush people from their homes in a deluge of water with little to no warning. Field experience in this situation would be better suited to fleeing rather than waiting to see what happens.
If your family is one of those who choose to shelter in place during a hurricane and you live in an area that is prone to or has flooded due to a tidal surge or inland flooding, it’s a good idea to keep a separate survival kit in the attic. A large, plastic trash can with common survival supplies as well as spare water and/or water filters will go a long way when the storm passes, and you are trapped in a hot, humid attic awaiting rescue.
I also highly recommend personal flotation devices or an inflatable raft to escape if need be. I floored the knee-wall spaces of my upstairs attic with plywood that can be used in a pinch to board up danger areas and also store supplies along with the usual stuff we accumulate as a family. Also, remember that a good hurricane survival kit includes the tools and materials to cut, breach, saw, nail, hammer, and fortify. If you are in a flood zone, you will need to have a way to escape an area of your house you usually don’t exit. This was a major problem during Katrina for rescue crews as they were forced to cut or axe their way into rooftops to access survivors. As any prepared citizen, we should realize that the most important survival skill is to decide when to flee or when to stay and ride it out. There is a point of no return in a hurricane where the attempt to flee will most likely end in drowning in a car or some other calamity from storm surge.
I have fled through two hurricanes, one as a child and one as an adult. I’ve done maybe 4 or 5 as a responder in the Coast Guard and Army and can say for a fact that the decision-making process during a storm is finite. Know your home and the effects of a storm on your community. If you’re on the coast during an intense hurricane, an attic is a death sentence for you and yours, you can’t be protected up there if your roof is gone. Maybe you live inland, and there is an intercoastal waterway, river, bay you live close to. As for pre-planning, a good thing with hurricanes is that you have time to move your survival kits upstairs and not have to worry about heat or humidity found in attics decaying your supplies.
A good kit that is already prepared and a family plan of action will also give you some time to board windows, sandbag doors, and stow or batten down your outdoor stuff, so your yard doesn’t become a field of missiles waiting to rip into your living spaces. Lumber gets scarce before a hurricane, so start thinking of what you can spare in the house to board up the windows. A trip to the hardware store hours from landfall of a storm is just terrible planning. If you do find yourself in a pinch, interior doors, tables, cabinet doors, and even something simple as a mattress lashed over a window using eye hooks screwed into a wall stud will prevent glass breakage injury within the room when the wind speeds increase, or debris starts flying. Be creative, you’ll be thankful you did.
So, we had lots to say about hurricanes; what about tornados? Based on what I just experienced during deployment to Moore, Oklahoma, after an F5 ravaged an entire city, you have little to NO warning. Maybe the emergency broadcast system works, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the weather app on your phone gives you a heads up, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the local volunteer fire department still has the woo-woo siren on the roof, or they don’t.
Use your phones, weather radio, TV’s, or whatever to stay informed. If you are seeing updrafts, hail, gusty winds from various directions, or just have a bad feeling, get yourself and your family into a safe place such as a bunker, basement, or at the very least an interior room with no windows. About the only safe space that will hold my entire family is an interior closet that is built under a stairwell. That is the best I have at the moment, and after the events of a couple weeks ago, we are terribly unprepared. Planning for the worst in a lurch after you have experienced a disaster is the worst, don’t make the mistakes I made.