This week the Southeast has been hit with severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, which are very unusual for this area. When rare, dangerous events occur, people are often unprepared for them.
Tornadoes can happen with little or no warning, and they cannot always be seen ahead of time. Employers should develop an emergency plan for what to do if a tornado is in the area, learn the warning signs, and monitoring tornado watches and warnings.
To prepare for a tornado, businesses should develop an emergency plan that includes the following:
An underground area, such as a basement or storm cellar, provides the best protection from a tornado. If an underground shelter is unavailable, consider the following:
- Seek a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible
- Stay away from doors, windows, and outside walls
- Stay in the center of the room, and avoid corners because they attract debris
- Rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or block with no windows and a heavy concrete floor or roof system overhead
- Avoid auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs.
Personnel should also be aware of what to do if caught outdoors when a tornado is threatening. Seek shelter in a basement or a sturdy building. If one is not within walking distance, try to drive in a vehicle, using a seat belt, to the nearest shelter. If flying debris is encountered while in a vehicle, there are two options: 1) staying in the vehicle with the seat belt on, keeping your head below the windows and covering it with your hands or a blanket, 2) if there is an area which is noticeable lower than the roadway, lie in that area and cover your head with your hands.
- Develop a system for knowing who is in the building in the event of an emergency
- Establish an alarm system to warn workers
- Test systems frequently
- Develop plans to communicate warnings to personnel with disabilities or who do not speak English
- Account for workers, visitors, and customers as they arrive in the shelter
- Use a prepared roster or checklist
- Take a head count
- Assign specific duties to workers in advance; create checklists for each specific responsibility. Designate and train workers alternates in case the assigned person is not there or is injured
Some businesses are required to have an Emergency Action Plan meeting the requirements under 29 CFR 1910.38, see Evacuation Plans and Procedures eTool for more information. Though Emergency Action Plans primarily involve evacuations, emergency planning for tornadoes involve identifying safe places of refuge for workers to go to in the event of tornadoes.
- Get emergency supply kits and keep them in shelter locations
- Learn more about NOAA Weather Radio.
Training and Exercises
- Ensure that all workers know what to do in case of an emergency.
- Practice shelter-in-place plans on a regular basis.
- Update plans and procedures based on lessons learned from exercises.
The plan should include details on suitable places to take shelter, policies to ensure all personnel are accounted for, and procedures for addressing any hazardous materials that are on-site. It is also recommended that individuals develop action plans for their families.