Tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters are a fact of life. Preparing for possible crises ahead of time is the best way to guarantee the safety of our families and communities. Alabama Public Television has assembled these resources to help you prepare for emergencies and find important emergency management information.
APT & Public Safety
Alabama Public Television’s 2200-mile microwave network is the backbone of Alabama’s Emergency Alert System (EAS), distributing national, state and local emergency broadcast signals to all radio and television broadcasters throughout the state. APT is also the hub for Alabama’s Amber Alert system to track missing children. Cell phone providers rely on APT’s WARN system for similar notifications.
APT’s microwave system provides extensive communication services for Homeland Security, the Alabama Department of Public Safety, State Capitol Police and 68 E911 centers throughout the state. A microwave connection to the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) bunker in Clanton provides constant communications with the ability to disseminate emergency messages, as well as live video/audio broadcasts directly from the SEOC bunker, to 99% of TV households in the state of Alabama, as well as nationally from APT’s satellite uplink center in Montgomery.
WHAT IS A TORNADO?
A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that descends from a thunderstorm down to the ground. It’s one of nature’s most terrifying and destructive weather phenomena. Tornado intensities are classified on the Fujita Scale with ratings between F0 (weakest) to F5 (strongest). The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more. Damage paths can be in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long. They can destroy large buildings, lift 20-ton railroad cars from their tracks, and drive a blade of straw through a telephone pole. In a typical year, more than 1,200 tornadoes occur throughout the vast United States.
Tornadoes can occur any time of the year, but in Alabama they are most common from March until May. The state averages 23 storms per season. In Alabama, tornadoes almost always travel from the southwest to the northeast. This pattern can be seen in all of the tornado tracks of April 2011.
More Tornado Facts
When a Tornado Watch is declared, tornadoes are possible in and near the watch area. This is a time to review and discuss your emergency plans and check supplies for your safe room. Be ready to act quickly if a warning is issued or you suspect a tornado is approaching.
The means a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Tornado warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property. Go immediately underground to a basement, storm shelter or an interior room (closet, hallway or bathroom). NO part of a mobile home is safe during a tornado.
MYTH: Areas near rivers, lakes, and mountains are safe from tornadoes.
FACT: No terrain is safe from tornadoes. In the late 1980’s, a tornado swept through Yellowstone National Park leaving a path of destruction up and down a 10,000 ft. mountain. Never assume you know what a tornado is going to do. Always assume tornado warnings are meant for you.
MYTH: The low pressure with a tornado causes buildings to “explode” as the tornado passes overhead.
FACT: Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause most structural damage.
MYTH: Windows should be opened before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.
FACT: Opening windows allows damaging winds to enter the structure. Leave the windows alone; instead, immediately go to a basement, interior room, or bathroom without windows.
Tornadoes are most prevalent in Alabama between March and May, but they can happen any time of year depending on weather conditions. If you don’t have a safe room and a weather plan in place, take the time to do it today. Alabama leads the nation in tornado deaths with 621 people killed since 1950.
Pick a safe room in your home where household members and pets may gather during a tornado. This should be a basement, storm cellar or an interior room or closet on the lowest floor with no windows. If you live in a mobile home, make arrangements to go somewhere else in the event of a tornado.
Consider having your safe room reinforced. Plans for reinforcing an interior room to provide better protection are available on the FEMA website.
PRACTICE periodic tornado drills so that everyone knows what to do if a tornado is approaching.
SAFETY EQUIPMENT – HELMETS
The UAB Injury Control Research Center says helmets should be part of everyone’s tornado plan. In Jefferson County, at least 11 of 21 fatalities during the April 27, 2011 tornadoes were from head injuries and nearly all victims were inside houses when the storms struck. Motorcycle, football and baseball batting helmets provide the most protection to the head, but even bicycle helmets can save lives. Store helmets for everyone in your household inside or near your safe room.
You may only have a few moments notice to take shelter from a tornado and you may need to survive on your own without electricity, running water or other supplies for days if a tornado strikes. FEMA recommends having sufficient quantities of food, water and other supplies to last at least 72 hours.
Download this Basic Supplies List to guide your preparation.
Your family may not be together when a disaster strikes so it is important to plan in advance:
- How you will get to a safe place (basement, storm shelter)
- How you will contact one another
- How you will get back together
- What you will do in different situations
Everyone in your family should know where to go when you hear a Tornado Warning or suspect or tornado is nearby.
Download this Emergency Contact Plan to distribute to friends and family.
On a regular basis, remove diseased and damaged limbs from trees that could be hit your house or a neighbors during high winds and rain. If a storm is imminent, move or secure lawn furniture, trash cans, hanging plants or anything else that can be picked up by the wind and become a projectile.
There are many ways you can help your community prepare for tornadoes and other natural disasters. Volunteer to support disaster efforts, get trained and volunteer with a community response team, become involved with a local school, church or other community organization that provided services before, during and after an emergency. Learn more about getting involved.
BUSINESS PREPARATION PLANNING
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has resources to help businesses prepare for the impacts of many hazards including floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. Learn how to plan for and protect your business.
During any storm, listen to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed about watches and warnings. Many services also provide storm alerts with text messages, e-mails and even voice calls. If you are in doubt, take shelter.
WATCH FOR DANGER SIGNS
Tornadoes are typically accompanied by one or more of these danger signs:
- Dark, often greenish clouds
- Large hail
- Large, dark, low-lying clouds particularly if they are rotating
- Loud roaring sound
If you see any of these natural clues, take shelter.
IF YOUR ARE CAUGHT OUTDOORS
If you are caught outdoors or in a mobile home when a tornado threatens, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter, the American Red Cross advises you to immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Stay in the car with seat belt on and your head below the windows, covering your head with your hands and a blanket if possible. If you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.
AFTER A TORNADO
Continue listening to local news or NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions. Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes when examining your walls, doors, staircases and windows for damage. Watch out for fallen power lines or broken gas lines and report them to the utility company immediately. The American Red Cross Tornado Safety Checklist provides more details.
RED CROSS SAFE AND WELL
If your community experiences a tornado, or any disaster, you can register on the American Red Cross Safe and Well website available through RedCross.org to let your family and friends know about your welfare. If you don’t have Internet access, call 1-866-GET-INFO to register yourself and your family.