On Monday, May 20th, an EF5 tornado thrashed through the town of Moore, Oklahoma, injuring 377 people, killing 24 people and damaging or completely destroying approximately 12,000 homes.
The level of complete devastation is hard to comprehend. Lives have been literally turned upside down; loved ones bereft of life and homes now nothing more than a pile of sticks and memories.
The thing is, this tornado all stemmed from what was a very run-of-the-mill warning. There were predictions of heavy wind gusts and storms, but the idea of a twister two-miles wide lacerating the Oklahoma City area was, in fact, slight.
To predict the nature of a tornado -- it's chosen path of destruction or what breadth and momentum it could pick up once it hits the ground running -- and still have time to spare is difficult. The people of Moore only had a 16-minute notice.
Although the Midwest is more prone to these funnels of annihilation, tornados have occurred in every state of the Lower 48. That's why tornado preparedness is something that everyone should take seriously.
As the person in charge of your employees' safety in the workplace, it's your responsibility to develop an emergency plan and anticipate hazards associated with the response and recovery operations that your workers are likely to conduct should a tornado hit your facility.
The following guide is designed to help you and your employees prepare for tornados and how to avoid potential hazards in the aftermath.
Know The Warning Signs
EF5 tornados are extremely violent but also very rare. However, there's no such thing as safety inside a tornado. How do you prepare your workforce for an oncoming tornado? Be sure they know to look and listen for:
Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base
Whirling dust or debris on the ground under the cloud base (tornados don't always have funnels)
Heavy rain followed by dead calm
Loud, continuous roar or rumble that doesn't fade like thunder
At night, small and bright flashes of blue-green light at ground level (that means power lines are being snapped, maybe by a tornado)
At night, persistent lowering from the cloud based, illuminated or silhouetted by lightening
If you or your employees experience any of these warning signs, it's time to take shelter and keep listening to the news for weather updates.
Develop An Emergency Plan
Planning -- In planning, you must identify shelter locations and have accountability procedures in place.
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)
Find rooms constructed with reinforced concrete, brick or block with no windows or roof system overhead
Avoid auditoriums, cafeterias and gymnasiums that have flat, wide-span roofs
Your workers should also know what to do if caught outdoors when there's a tornado. They should seek shelter in a sturdy building or, if not within walking distance, drive with seat belt on to a shelter. If driving isn't an option, stay in the vehicle with seat belt on, keeping body below window level while covering head with hands or blanket.
Develop a system for knowing who is in the building in the event of an emergency
Establish an alarm system to warn workers and test those systems frequently
Develop plans to communicate warning 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 and take a head count
Assign specific duties to workers in advance, create a checklist for each specific responsibility, and have employee alternates trained in case the assigned person is not there or injured
Equip, Train and Exercise -- These three aspects of tornado preparedness help your employees be prepared and continuously stay prepared.
Get emergency supply kits and keep them in shelter locations
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
Response And Recovery
In the aftermath of a tornado, workers involved in recovery efforts may face dangerous hazards. You must ensure they take extra special precautions in order to stay safe. Here's how:
Be aware of structural, gas-leak or electrical hazards
Don't touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed power lines
Wear proper clothes when near debris, including boots and gloves
Be careful around sharp objects, including nails and broken glass
Use proper safety precautions when operating generators, chainsaws or other power tools
Take steps to prevent heat illness and dehydration
We know this blog post was a little longer than average, but we wanted to be thorough in providing you with helpful tips for the health and safety of your workforce. Knowing exactly what to do in the event of a tornado and the aftermath is a workplace safety measure you must take to protect your employees.