What should go into a successful tornado drill for your family, business

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer

Tornadoes can touch down rapidly, leaving a limited time to react. Tornado warnings are issued 13 minutes before the storm hits on average, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

When a tornado strikes, decisions must be made fast and actions taken immediately. Casualties and injuries occur when people do not or cannot get to adequate shelter quickly.

An emergency action plan should be developed prior to a tornado event.

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A tornado near Keenesburg, Colorado. (Photo/AccuWeather/Reed Timmer)

Similar to a fire drill, a tornado drill allows a family, community, business or other organization to exercise their plans and familiarize themselves with actions needed to take if a tornado warning is issued, according to Jeff Caldwell, director of external affairs at the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).

“The goal is to ensure citizens have practiced and understand the appropriate steps to take to save lives and protect their businesses, coworkers and families during this type of natural disaster,” Caldwell said.

A successful tornado drill will prompt a discussion about emergency plans. It will include assembling an emergency supply kit and understanding where to go, such as an interior room or a basement, if a tornado is bearing down on your location.

"The ultimate goal is to increase understanding of the actions you, your family, your business, or your students will take," Caldwell said.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends following a four-step plan for preparing your family in case a disaster strikes.

The first step is to put together a plan by discussing these four questions with your family, friends, or household to start your emergency plan.

The second step is to consider the specific needs in your household. As you prepare your plan, tailor your plans and supplies to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities.

When developing your plan, keep in mind certain factors, such as the different ages of family members, your pets or service animals, the dietary and medical needs of your household members including prescriptions and equipment.

The third step is to fill out a Family Emergency Plan. FEMA recommends that you download their family emergency plan or use it as a guide to create your own.

The fourth step is to practice your plan with your household.

Tornado Safety: How to prepare now infogram

Unlike with hurricanes, where you have days in advance to prepare, gather supplies for shelters, or evacuate, chances are that with tornadoes you’re only going to have a few minutes to execute your plan, Patrick Marsh, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the NOAA/ NWS Storm Prediction Center, said.

"The most important thing is for you to get to your pre-identified safe space, everything else is just extra,” Marsh said.

Marsh recommends that you have a battery-powered radio to receive updates and weather information, as you may lose power in a tornado situation. You may also want to have a security toy to help calm a child.

FEMA recommends that if you are under a tornado warning, find safe shelter immediately, such as a safe room, basement or storm cellar.

If you are in a building with no basement, then get to a small interior room on the lowest level. Stay away from windows, doors and outside walls.

During the tornado, watch out for flying debris that can cause injury or death. Use your arms to protect your head and neck, FEMA says.

Some states, including Virginia, conduct an annual statewide tornado drill. Virginia conducts their drill each March in partnership with the National Weather Service (NWS) and Virginia television and radio broadcasters, according to Caldwelll.

Virginia's statewide test is conducted when a test message is sent by the NWS at a designated time, which triggers the Emergency Alert System. NOAA weather radios and broadcast stations then transmit a test message alerting citizens to take cover and rehearse their tornado emergency plan.

Following the drill, the VDEM encourages everyone to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and additional preventive measures they should put in place before a real tornado warning.

Tornado shelter - AP

Sabrina Mitchell, 19, takes a peek inside the neighbor's storm shelter where she survived a deadly tornado, and emerged to find her home destroyed along with hundreds of others, in Moore, Okla., Friday, May 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Tornadoes are most common in the central and southern United States, but can occur almost anywhere when conditions are right. Therefore, Caldwell encourages everyone to participate in tornado drills.

For example, Virginia experienced more than 30 tornadoes in 2018, which was more than many states in the country's "Tornado Alley."

The NWS Houston/Galveston Forecast Office encourages schools to conduct tornado drills at least twice during the school year.

“You can never rehearse emergency plans too much,” Caldwell said. “We encourage citizens to test their tornado plan at least once a year.”

Tornado drills help you to practice the behaviors and understand the plans in case of an emergency. Therefore, if a tornado warning is issued, everyone will know what to do and have experience taking shelter.

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For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.

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