To date in 2021, there have been 1,147 preliminary filtered reports of tornadoes in the United States of which at least 942 have been confirmed. Weather brought on by climate change is causing intense storms including flooding and tornados in all parts of the country even during months when these storms typically do not occur.
These terrifying storms have resulted in the loss of lives and livelihoods, as homes and buildings across communities get pummeled by the intense winds. Many communities are underprepared to withstand an intense twister, and even those that leverage tornado mitigation techniques still can be left in utter destruction.
Even if your community is not in the traditional "Tornado Alley" it is vital that your local government prepares for a tornado to mitigate the damage, and has a response plan in place to recover as quickly as possible. Follow along for how you can get started on your tornado emergency preparedness plan.
Why Does Your Municipal Government Need to Be Concerned About Tornados?
Severe weather can occur during any month of the year, but the peak activity usually falls during the months of March, April and May. According to Accuweather, 64 tornadoes on average occur during January and February in the U.S. In the south eastern and central United States, Tornadoes pose a serious risk for municipalities. In order to prepare for tornadoes and mitigate damage, consider building wind-resistant infrastructure, retrofitting buildings to include wind-resistant roofing, encourage constituents to have the proper insurance coverage, and educate constituents on the best practices for how to react if a tornado does occur. This free eLearning course from the disaster recovery non-profit, SBP, can help constituents prepare for and recover from tornados.
SBP eLearning: Tornadoes - Preparing for the Unexpected
In many regions across the United States, there is a strong probability that tornados will strike eventually. These storms can cost lives and millions to repair. In 2020, Nashville, Tennessee got hit by a powerful tornado leaving 25 dead, 309 injured, and causing $1.6 billion worth of damages. Along with catastrophic winds, the storms are known to cause large hail, severe thunderstorms with intense lightning, and a dangerous rotating cloud of debris which can puncture cars, homes, and other structures where people might take shelter.
If your community is in a region known for tornadoes, your local government should actively coordinate an emergency preparedness plan for tornadoes and train constituents on how to prepare. Additionally, as the federal government begins sending FEMA funds to local municipalities to spend on storm mitigation, your government leadership will need to determine what infrastructure improvements to prioritize and how to manage Federal relief and recovery funds that it eventually receives.
What Are the Phases of Tornado Emergency Preparedness Plans?
The four phases you’ll need to consider in your tornado emergency preparedness plan are mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
Here are some tips on how to plan for and respond to a tornado disaster:
1. Tornado Mitigation
Mitigation is setting your community up to withstand a tornado to the best of your ability. It is the (somewhat literal) foundation to keep your buildings in place.
Here are some common tornado mitigation techniques:
Avoid on-site servers for your data storage: when a storm hits, your government data is among the most critical things necessary to plan a quick response. Unfortunately, if your local servers are in one of the buildings that a tornado strikes, the data stored electronically or in paper records could be lost forever. Consider using cloud-based government management software to ensure that no storm poses the risk of destroying your government data. Business continuity for local government is critical during and following a disaster.
Build infrastructure with tornado resistant materials: to put it simply, which of the three little pigs didn’t lose their home to the wolves' intense blowing? The same principle applies for withstanding a tornado. Things like anchor bolts, roof straps, window shutters, interlocking roof shingles, and impact-resistant glass are all recommended in the FEMA tornado mitigation guide.
Build easily accessible shelter areas: ensure that if students at a public school or elderly in the nursing homes get caught in the path of a tornado, that they have a designated shelter like a basement or safe room to hide in until the storm passes.
2. Tornado Safety & Preparedness
Even if your community has a well executed tornado mitigation plan, a bad disaster can still wreak havoc on your town. Here are some of the ways to prepare your community to ensure personal safety in the event a funnel cloud appears on the horizon.
Educate community members: Residents should understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. A tornado watch is typically issued hours in advance by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC). It means that conditions are ideal for a tornado to form...A warning means that either a tornado has been spotted or a radar has picked one up, and is an imminent threat. Residents should also understand the safest places to take shelter in the event of a tornado. While the safest place is in a purpose built subterranean storm shelter, other suggested options include a basement, an interior room, closet or hallway away from windows, in a bathroom bathtub, or lowest floor under a heavy table. If in a car, drivers are advised NOT to park their car under an overpass. Instead they should take cover in a ditch if no structures are available to shelter inside of.
Build a tornado response team: if a tornado strikes, it’s your governments’ responsibility to save the lives of people and animals that were caught in the storm and trapped in the debris. Build a team of volunteers by registering community volunteers in advance to respond in the wake of the tornado and train them on performing search and rescue missions as members of a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).
Encourage community members to build infrastructure wisely: just as governments should build their infrastructure with tornado resistant materials, it is important to encourage constituents to do the same. Community members that are building new homes or updating existing properties should consider building structures that can withstand a powerful tornado. Municipalities at risk of tornadoes should consider updating construction codes in order to improve community resilience. The Insurance Institute for Home & Business Safety is an excellent resource for disaster resilient building codes and techniques.
Hold training sessions and tornado drills for community members: it is critical that community members of all ages are aware of what to do when a tornado is incoming. Teach children and adults about safe rooms and where they are located within public buildings. You should also run tornado drills so that people know the proper steps to take in a critical situation.
3. Tornado Response
Your local government needs to implement its emergency preparedness plan for tornados immediately. Here are the steps that need to be taken right away:
Put your search and rescue team to work: the tornado response team should be well trained for this moment. Community members and their pets can be caught in the rubble and may need immediate medical attention. Move quickly.
Analyze the situation: now that the winds have died down, your government officials will need to assess the damage and consider where you’d like to apply for FEMA and HUD CDBG-DR funds in the recovery process. This information should be passed along to the federal government as quickly as possible to expedite the sending of stimulus funds.
Update community mapping software: one of the biggest advantages to government management software is that you can leverage GIS mapping software, which provides your government and community members with a 3D map of the municipality that can be updated in real time. A mobile application such as GovInspect can also help officials plot damage at the individual property level in order to determine the scope of damage. Now that government officials have taken note of where the worst damage is located, the software can be updated to notify constituents on areas to avoid as well as what can be expected in the recovery process.
4. Tornado Recovery
Once your search and rescue missions conclude, the return to normalcy is far from over. Here are the steps that should be taken over time to repair damages and prevent further destruction if another tornado occurs:
Rebuild accordingly: if a tornado could destroy buildings in your community once, it can do it again. Rebuild old infrastructure to be more resistant to the dangerous winds and encourage constituents to do the same.
Implement your Federal funds: since you took the time to analyze where your priorities lie, as soon as your FEMA money is available you should get going on taking action immediately. Have vetted contractors that can perform the necessary work ready to go and be sure to hold them accountable to pre-established benchmarks in order to ensure a prompt, efficient, predictable recovery.
Keep communication lines open: as a government leader, you’ll need to be in touch with everyone involved. Keep State and Federal government agencies aware of your actions and where you need support. Work with local and national non-profit organizations who can provide critical support and hard earned expertise. Instruct volunteers on how they can best help, by giving them meaningful tasks so that they contribute over the long-term. Let constituents know how progress is coming and when they can expect things to rebound. Lastly, be sure to help survivors and impacted constituents through the recovery process by providing critical information on how to navigate the FEMA assistance process, and how to avoid contractor fraud.
Seek expertise in recovery process: Publicly-funded (FEMA, HUD) disaster recovery and mitigation programs play a critical role in serving a community’s most vulnerable, disaster-impacted residents and yet these programs routinely fail to deliver timely, predictable assistance to those who need it most. Certain, irreversible social and economic damage occurs when disaster recovery is delayed and unpredictable. National non-profit, SBP helps community leaders design, plan, implement, and execute effective and efficient mitigation and recovery programs that reduce risk and help shrink the time between disaster and recovery. The organization offers government advisory services at NO cost to local governments.
Tornados are an unfortunate reality that can upend your entire community within a matter of minutes. Luckily, you’re making the decision to plan ahead to mitigate tornado damage and have a response plan in place, which will have a positive impact on the safety of your community members.
To learn more about how government management software can mitigate the impact of a tornado and ensure business continuity, schedule a free consultation.
Check out our other Emergency Preparedness Guides from GovPilot and SBP:
Tornado Mitigation FAQs
1. What is tornado mitigation?
Tornado mitigation is the process of taking action before a twister rolls through to alleviate potential damage.
Some of the most impactful tornado mitigation strategies include building communal safe rooms or a storm cellar in public buildings like schools and libraries, using tornado resistant building materials in any new construction, and using cloud based systems to manage your government data (so that a storm can’t roll through and destroy your on-site servers.)
2. How can local governments prepare for a tornado?
Despite your best efforts to mitigate tornados, a powerful storm will still undoubtedly cause destruction in your community. As a result, you need to have a tornado emergency preparedness plan in place, practice tornado drills with community members and in schools, and recruit constituents to be a part of a volunteer tornado response team.
Residents should be encouraged to establish their own tornado-safety plan to include evacuation plans, understanding tornado alerts, and how best to build an emergency kit that to include items like prescription medications, batteries, flashlights, a first aid kit and nonperishable food.
3. How to immediately respond to a tornado?
After a tornado hits your community, swift action needs to be taken. Start by having your tornado response team perform a search and rescue mission to seek out surviving people and animals. Additionally, have them assess the damages and pass that information along to the federal government so that they can consider how much FEMA funding is needed.
4. What is needed for long term recovery from a tornado?
Have a thorough game plan in place for how federal funds will be allocated across your community. Consider which actions will be most critical for recovery and prioritize those in your plan. When rebuilding, make sure that any new construction uses the most tornado resistant materials as possible. Keep community members in the loop on progress being made, so that they have a feel for when their township will return to normal.