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The Technology You Need To Survive A Killer Tornado

Date: 2011-04-30
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Surviving A Nature Nightmare With Weather Alert Technology

courtesy Meteorologist Ben Alonzo,

Right: Snow Hill, NC, April 25, 2011 -- Greene County, North Carolina middle school suffers extreme damage during the deadly tornadoes and severe storms of April 16, 2011. FEMA is responding to severe storms and deadly tornadoes that damaged or destroyed homes and businesses across North Carolina.
David Fine/FEMA

After tornadoes left over 300 dead in just a 24 hour period those in the across the country are now aware that technology, email, text alerts, and weather radios prevented an astronomical death toll. Some of the supercell storms from Wednesday were so extreme that if anyone in their path didn’t adequately seek shelter they would not survive. By a miracle, highly visible tornadoes during the day Wednesday combined with media coverage saved many whom are counting their blessings today. Had the killer tornadoes hit later at night when people were asleep not tuned into local radio or television, the death toll may have been tripled into the thousands. Severe weather knows no limits striking anywhere anytime whether you’re ready or not. Would you have enough time to alert your family and take cover? How would you be alerted? What if a tornado hits at 3am while you’re asleep? These are some frightening questions millions are asking just one day after a deadly historic tornado outbreak.  Here is some excellent information on how you can protect your family using life saving technology - and what public safety and emergency managers need to know about technology for disaster preparedness and emergency notification.


Technology Saved Thousands

“There were pieces of houses for miles in the sky” one victim told StormSector, a science and technology website. The day after one of the most deadly tornado outbreaks in the history of the United States, many are opening their eyes to a new reality. Killer tornadoes across four states left over 300 people dead in just a 24 hour period. A heart wrenching reality sets in as the death toll is still rising. Some of the supercell storms from Wednesday were so dangerous that if anyone in their path didn’t promptly and correctly seek shelter they would not survive. StormSector monitored Emergency Alert System communications when a warning went out for the Tuscaloosa, Alabama tornado. StormSector staff determined that if you had a working Weather Radio Alert, you had at least 15-25 minutes time to react. This is precious time you could gather your family and then seek adequate shelter having at least a chance to react. Otherwise, unless you were watching the right television channel, you probably had no idea your home would disappear in a matter of minutes. In the days after as we clean up we will be taking a look at how we prepare and what we can do to be ready next time because it’s only a matter of time. Forecasters point out the year is no where no over and that other outbreaks may occur in the future. Now is the time to learn how you can be prepared by learning about important life-saving weather alert technology.

Life Saver: The NOAA Weather Radio System

Modern NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) started in the 1990’s as broadcast antennas transmitted dedicated weather information 24 hours, year round. There are no commercials, only weather data. Since the 90’s the communications system has improved dramatically where warnings can be specific to a pinpointed area. Aerial coverage has also improved across the country. Scott Spratt, a Warning Coordination Meteorologist from The National Weather Service spoke with discussing future warning technology. “We suggest that everyone has two methods to receive severe weather warnings. In addition to NWR, one suggestion we make is for people to sign up for a text message service to receive warnings on their cell phones. Many local Emergency Management Agencies and Media Outlets offer free services that citizens can sign up for, and official NWS Warnings for specific geographic areas can be relayed directly to their cell phones. Eventually, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) will send Tornado warnings direct to everyone's cell phones if the cell phone tower they are connected with is within a NWS Tornado Warning polygon.” Spratt recommends that people have more than one single source to alert them as a backup. NOAA Weather Radio transmitters are spread out throughout the country covering most populated areas with a sufficient broadcast signal. People at home or work can listen and stay informed especially when the weather gets ugly. Without a Weather Radio Alert, you may not get any warning at all leaving you with precious wasted time. By the time you become aware you are in a tornado, it may be too late.


Advanced Technology

Meteorologist and disaster operations expert Ben Alonzo from pointed out that many electronics manufacturers have products with NOAA Weather Radio built-in. “We’ve been working with Motorola, Radio Shack, and SIMA to show off some of their technology. We want to focus on budget items, but these are certainly life saving products. Motorola even has Weather Radio Alert built-in on some of their walkie-talkies. All-in-one items like this are great because you can use them for regular communications, traveling, and especially when the weather gets bad to stay informed.” also started Project Weather 2.0 pointing out that consumers can use advanced technologies such as email, text alerts, and NOAA Weather Radio to stay alive and informed. “This kind of technology during a killer tornado would prove to be just as important as a smoke detector.” Weather Radios have a circuit in them that will silently monitor the system and when they receive an alert trigger, it immediately sounds a siren alerting you that dangerous weather is occurring followed by voice details of the situation. Alonzo says recent killer storm outbreaks are reminding everyone that such technology may have become a vital necessity for every home. People with smartphones may also be able to download special weather applications that can play audible alert siren sounds from their phone. Preparedness also means knowing what to do before and after severe weather once threatening weather conditions occur.


Before, During, And After

It’s important to have an emergency action plan before dangerous storms impact your area. This plan includes a first aid kit, as well as other important items such as food, snacks, water, batteries, flashlight, medications, and emergency paperwork. A Weather Radio Alert should be a high priority item for every household. They can alert you of dangerous weather and are capable of receiving nearly 100 message types such as Amber Alerts, Earthquake Alerts, and Presidential Alert Messages. Sign up for email or text alerts from your local television or radio station. Make sure you select the counties you reside in to ensure you are alerted. Regularly test your Weather Radio keeping fresh batteries in it at all times. Your emergency plan should include contact details. Be sure to know who to call and let family know what you’re doing ahead of time. Going over your plan is important to make certain everyone knows who to call, what to do, and where to go. For tornadoes, you will want to be in a shelter or sturdy structure on the lowest interior floor away from windows. Always cover yourself with pillows and blankets to protect yourself from flying debris. Severe winds can turn any object in your home or neighbors yard into deadly high velocity projectiles. One important key point is to remain calm. Pay attention to emergency details which can be received thru local radio, television, and NOAA Weather Radio. Listen and remain alert for the latest warnings as the weather can change rapidly. Not all tornadoes are clearly visible. Never remain in a mobile home during a tornado. Mobile homes are easily destroyed by tornadoes. Find another sturdy structure or take cover in a ditch covering your head. Be aware of possible flooding. Getting dirty shouldn’t matter if it means saving your life.

While you are in a severe thunderstorm, stay under cover until officials give your location the all clear or the warning for your area expires. Don’t go outside to try and capture the event on video. If you become trapped, remain calm. During storms it’s also important to keep your kids entertained so the experience will be less traumatic. It might sound silly but consider having some games or entertainment included in your kit. Some disasters last a long amount of time. It’s important to stay alert, but also keep yourself entertained. You will remember it forever and will have made the best with the time you had.

After severe weather you must be cautious of damage. Downed power lines can kill you after you survive a killer tornado. Never wonder around damaged areas at night. Try to stay in place and wait for professional emergency help. If you have communications available, you should contact a family member outside of the disaster area and let them know your ok. If communications are sparse or unavailable please give priority to emergency officials. One way you can help is limit your phone calls or make the length short. Call a family member tell them your ok and will keep them updated. Experts also recommend that all non emergency professionals stay off the roads especially after major disasters so emergency officials can move without additional traffic hazards. You can also prepare by learning some important storm facts.

Snow Hill, NC, April 25, 2011 -- Properties in Greene County, North Carolina await cleanup and recovery following
the deadly tornadoes and severe storms that swept through the state on April 16, 2011. David Fine/FEMA


Storm Facts

Here are some interesting storm facts you may not know.

  • People who are in a mobile home in the direct path of a significant tornado will likely not survive. Experts say flee to a sturdy structure or if not available lay in a ditch.
  • If you cannot safely outrun a tornado, abandon your vehicle for a sturdy structure or lay in a ditch covering your head.
  • The average warning time is 45 minutes. There is no such thing as an “all clear” siren.
  • Never rely on outdoor warning sirens. They might not work, be present, or heard.
  • Severe winds not associated with tornadoes can also kill.
  • There are 1,000 NOAA Weather Radio transmitters in the United States.
  • A watch means conditions are favorable for severe weather.
  • A warning means severe weather has been indicated by radar or sighted by a trained spotter.
  • Some tornadoes can occur with little or no warning, so it’s important to pay attention to watches alone.
  • Tornadic thunderstorms often have large hail which can also injure people if they have not taken cover.
  • Some tornadoes can be rain wrapped where they are not visible until they are right over your area.
  • Severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can and often do occur overnight when people are sleeping. That’s also another reason why it’s important to have a NOAA Weather Radio Alert to wake you up just in case a killer tornado is headed towards your location!
  • Don’t waste your time opening windows or turning off gas lines before a tornado. Use that time to quickly and correctly seek shelter. A strong tornado will level your home whether your windows are open or not.
  • Major metro areas are not immune to direct tornado hits.
  • You can often sign up for free email and text alerts from the local media. They will send you weather watches and warnings directly to your cell phone and sometimes can even call your home phone number alerting you of threatening weather conditions.

It’s important to know that there are numerous tornado myths floating around. Tornadoes can and often do occur outside of the traditional Tornado Alley zone. Some of the deadliest tornadoes occur overnight while people are sleeping. If you don’t have a Weather Radio Alert chances are you will never know what hit you. Meteorologists say that now is the time to prepare and get informed because it may mean the difference between life and death. Preparedness is vital to surviving a deadly severe weather outbreak.


Where Can I Get A Weather Radio?

NOAA Weather Radios Are widely available. We have showcased products from Motorola, Radio Shack, and SIMA. They are available from most major retailers. The Motorola Talkabout MR350R can be purchased at Amazon, Best Buy, BJ’s, RadioShack, Home Depot, BassPro, Dick’s, Academy and REI.  The T9680RSAME is available at Radio Shack has many Weather Alert models available including the 12-522 available at all of their retail stores. For at home use we recommend a combination of items. Get a portable you can carry around with you and a model you can leave at a fixed location in your home such as a table top product. You can check out the StormSector Blog & News Center for product demonstrations and free severe weather tips. These products are easy to setup and just might save your life. The most recent killer tornado outbreak reminds us how important weather alert technology has become. Using this technology can give you the time you need to save your family when seconds matter making all the difference between life and death.




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