Prepared for a Hurricane – Got a Tornado

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With all eyes on Hurricane Joaquin and its path similarity to Hurricane Sandy, let’s take a moment to look back at last week’s uncommon weather in Charleston, South Carolina.

An EF-2 tornado ripped through the low country last Friday, carrying with it 130 mph winds. The twister ripped through Johns Island, a small community slightly west of downtown. The National Weather Service reported the funnel cloud touched down at 12:42 a.m., traveled across seven miles and 17 minutes later, dissipated near highly traveled Highway 17.

According to the Associated Press, “The tornado heavily damaged two homes on Sonny Boy Lane, ripping the back off one of the homes and sending an air conditioning unit hurtling about 150 yards. A home on Cane Slash Road had its roof blown off, as did several other businesses in that area. In total, almost 70 to 80 homes had some type of damage, and thousands of trees were uprooted.”

South Carolina Electric and Gas reported 200 Johns Island homes were without power, 85 were without power by the following daybreak.

Though damages were severe to some areas, no injuries were reported.

The Alert NOT Heard Around the Low Country

The National Weather Service sent an alert to area residents just before 1 a.m. reading: “Tornado Warning in this area til 1:30 AM EDT. Take shelter now. Check local media. – NWS”

Although many residents were awakened by the alert, I was not. I awoke more than three hours later, after the storm had passed.

One of two scenarios occurred that night: 1) I was in such a deep sleep, I did not hear the emergency notification ring or 2) it never rang because my phone was set to ‘do not disturb.’ Regardless of which occurred, I did not hear the alert. In my situation, I’m thankful the tornado did not rip through my neighborhood.

A Facebook friend posted her concern when she did not receive an alert message, even though she lives in the affected area. The post read: “Ummm why didn’t my iPhone get the emergency alarm that there was a tornado on james and johns island last night if I live on james island? Listening to the news this morning is a little scary knowing I slept through that.”

In several instances, residents either did not know the severity of the storm, or slept through it; making the fact that no injuries were reported even more astonishing.

A Boat In A Tree

I’m from the Midwest; Ohio particularly. I cannot even count how many times my siblings and I took shelter under our basement stairs due to tornadoes. Taking cover for tornadoes is, in a way, second nature. I know exactly what to do and where to go. Upon moving here, everyone warned me of hurricanes and flooding; not of tornadoes. One did form, however, and it destroyed homes, boats and landscapes.

boat in tree

A friend of mine was awake when the emergency alert rang. She initially thought it was a flood alert and went outside to watch the storm. She said the sky was eerily calm. In essence, ‘the calm before the storm.’ The next morning she awoke to her friend’s trailer flipped over and his boat in a tree. The picture depicts just how severe the damage was in areas; with uprooted trees and debris covering the landscape.

Lessons Learned

Regardless of your location, you can never assume ‘it won’t happen here.’ Hurricanes and floods are common on the coast, tornadoes are not. I am thankful, but also a bit shocked there were no injuries during the storm. The houses in Charleston are not built to withstand a tornado. Most are built on stilts (mine included) to prevent flood damages. Where is the safest place during a tornado? In a basement or underground; Charleston lies about eight feet above sea level – there is no “under” ground here.

Preparing Ahead

The day after the tornado hit Charleston, my roommate and I discussed what we will do when another twister hits the area. We discussed where we would take shelter – in our case, a half bathroom without windows that is located under a staircase. We also decided when severe weather hits again, we will make sure we are both awake; not let the other sleep through the storm. I also gathered flashlights, a first-aid kit and other emergency tools and placed them in an easy accessible area.

Whether you live with a roommate, your family or by yourself, plan ahead of time what you will do in case of a weather emergency.

While some disasters may come with warnings, most emergencies, like the tornado that ripped through the low country, are unexpected, causing you and your family to be separated. Your children may be in school and at least one adult may be at work. Weekends are no exception. With members of active families heading off in different directions, it’s especially necessary to develop ways of finding each other in the event of a crisis.

Firestorm President and COO, Jim Satterfield, always says “Family trumps job.” Therefore, plan at home so you are prepared at work.

The Lead (The “Who”)

Decide who in your household will be the “Lead” in case of a disaster. This person should have the ability to remain level-headed and calm during a dangerous situation. Agree in advance who can guide quickly, rationally and without conflict. Your “Lead” is likely, but not always, the adult who has the most predictable schedule and the least out-of-town travel. Identifying this person establishes a chain of command.

Choose a backup Lead in case the primary choice is not available. Should something happen to your Lead, or they are not available, the second in command can provide the necessary direction and support.

Meeting Places (The “Where”)

Identify where you and your family will meet after disaster strikes. Review how your family operates and the patterns you have discovered as you choose your meeting places.

Meeting places:

  • Provide temporary shelter at an agreed-upon location.
  • Provide a way to re-establish communication with your family in an efficient and resourceful way.

After the primary location has been chosen, pick a room within that structure for shelter. If you have chosen your home, select an interior room or the basement, as long as it is strong and provides minimum exposure. If you have decided on a place other than your home, make sure you know the structure well, and be sure to have a way to enter if the building has been locked.

Your Homethe book

Your primary meeting place may very well be your home, but it may not be an available option. Some homes are more vulnerable than others:

  • Mobile homes are considered a high-risk during tornadoes
  • Low-lying homes are subject to flooding in heavy storms
  • Homes in remote or inaccessible areas may be threatened by wildfires
  • If you live in a high-rise, choose someplace close by but at ground level

Be conservative when selecting locations!

Getting Home When at Work:

  • Consider how easy or difficult it will be to get to your primary meeting place from work.
  • Does it make sense to try to get there right away?
  • Would it be better to stay at work, or find a safe place near work until it’s safe to move to your primary meeting place?
  • If you plan to stay at work or find a safe place near work, make sure everyone in your family knows that is your plan.

Plan, plan and plan again. It is better to be safe than sorry, especially when protecting loved ones. Remember: every crisis is a human crisis. Lessen the damages and recovery time by thinking ahead and preparing for a disaster. You can learn how to prepare for any type of disaster at home (and the workplace), but downloading our free book: Disaster Ready People for a Disaster Ready America, or by contacting one of our crisis experts.

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