John D. sent this image from Enterprise, Alabama, in March, 2007. If you see approaching storms or any of the danger signs, be prepared to take shelter immediately.
STATEWIDE - Be alert to changing weather conditions. When there are thunderstorms in your area, turn on your radio or TV to get the latest emergency information from local authorities. Listen for announcements of a tornado watch or tornado warning.
Learn about any tornado warning system in your county or locality. Many tornado-prone areas have a siren system. Know how to distinguish between the siren's warnings for a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
A tornado watch is issued when weather conditions favor the formation of tornadoes, for example, during a severe thunderstorm.
During a tornado watch:
Stay tuned to local radio and TV stations or a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio for further weather information.
Watch the weather and be prepared to take shelter immediately if conditions worsen.
A tornado warning is issued when a tornado funnel is sighted or indicated by weather radar.
You should take shelter immediately.
Thunderstorms Because tornadoes often accompany thunderstorms, pay close attention to changing weather conditions when there is a severe thunderstorm watch or warning.
A severe thunderstorm watch means severe thunderstorms are possible in your area.
A severe thunderstorm warning means severe thunderstorms are occurring in your area.
Keep fresh batteries and a battery-powered radio or TV on hand. Electrical power is often interrupted during thunderstorms--just when information about weather warnings is most needed.
Important measures to take
Take a few minutes with your family to develop a tornado emergency plan. Sketch a floor plan of where you live, or walk through each room and discuss where and how to seek shelter.
Show a second way to exit from each room or area. If you need special equipment, such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
Make sure everyone understands the siren warning system, if there's such a system in your area.
Mark where your first-aid kit and fire extinguishers are located.
Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so they can be turned off--if time permits--in an emergency.
Teach your family how to administer basic first aid, how to use a fire extinguisher, and how and when to turn off water, gas, and electricity in your home.
Learn the emergency dismissal policy for your child's school.
Make sure your children know:
What a tornado is
What tornado watches and warnings are
What county or parish they live in (warnings are issued by county or parish)
How to take shelter, whether at home or at school.
Extra measures for people with special needs
Write down your specific needs, limitations, capabilities, and medications. Keep this list near you always--perhaps in your purse or wallet.
Find someone nearby (a spouse, roommate, friend, neighbor, relative, or co-worker) who will agree to assist you in case of an emergency. Give him or her a copy of your list. You may also want to provide a spare key to your home, or directions to find a key.
Keep aware of weather conditions through whatever means are accessible to you. Some options are closed captioning or scrolled warnings on TV, radio bulletins, or call-in weather information lines.
Practicing your emergency plan Conduct drills and ask questions to make sure your family remembers information on tornado safety, particularly how to recognize hazardous weather conditions and how to take shelter.
Writing down important information Make a list of important information. Include these on your list:
Important telephone numbers, such as emergency (police and fire), paramedics, and medical centers.
Names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your insurance agents, including policy types and numbers.
Telephone numbers of the electric, gas, and water companies.
Names and telephone numbers of neighbors.
Name and telephone number of your landlord or property manager.
Important medical information (for example, allergies, regular medications, and brief medical history).
Year, model, license, and identification numbers of your vehicles (automobiles, boats, and RVs).
Bank's or credit union's telephone number, and your account numbers.
Radio and television broadcast stations to tune to for emergency broadcast information.
Storing important documents Store the following documents in a fire- and water-proof safe:
Ownership certificates (autos, boats, etc.)
Social Security cards
List of contents of household; include serial numbers, if applicable
Photographs or videotape of contents of every room
Photographs of items of high values, such as jewelry, paintings, collection items
First Aid kit Store your first aid supplies in a tool box or fishing tackle box so they will be easy to carry and be protected from water. Inspect your kit regularly and keep it freshly stocked.
Drugs and medications
Hydrogen peroxide to wash and disinfect wounds
Individually wrapped alcohol swabs
Aspirin and non-aspirin tablets
Prescriptions and any long-term medications (keep these current)
Clean sheets torn into strips
Adhesive tape roll
Other First Aid supplies
First Aid book
Needle and thread
Instant cold packs for sprains
Reducing household hazards The following suggestions could reduce the risk for injury during or after a tornado. No amount of preparation will eliminate every risk.
Possible hazards Inspect your home for possible hazards, including the following:
Are walls securely bolted to the foundation?
Are wall studs attached to the roof rafters with metal hurricane clips, not nails?
Do you know where and how to shut off utilities at the main switches or valves?
Are chairs or beds near windows, mirrors or large pictures?
Are heavy items stored on shelves more than 30" high?
Are there large, unsecured items that might topple over or fall?
Are poisons, solvents or toxic materials stored safely?
Securing your home's structure No home is completely safe in a tornado. However, attention to construction details can reduce damage and provide better protection for you and your family if a tornado should strike your house. If an inspection using the "reducing household hazards" checklist above reveals a possible hazard in the way your home is constructed, contact your local city or county building inspectors for more information about structural safety. They may also offer suggestions on finding a qualified contractor to do any needed work for you.
Walls and roof rafters Strengthen the areas of connection between the wall studs and roof rafters with hurricane clips as shown in the above graphic.
Shutting off utilities
Gas After a tornado, DO NOT USE matches, lighters, or appliances, or operate light switches until you are sure there are no gas leaks. Sparks from electrical switches could ignite gas and cause an explosion.
If you smell the odor of gas or if you notice a large consumption of gas being registered on the gas meter, shut off the gas immediately. First, find the main shut-off valve located on a pipe next to the gas meter. Use an adjustable wrench to turn the valve to the "off" position.
Electricity After a major disaster, shut off the electricity. Sparks from electrical switches could ignite leaking gas and cause an explosion.
Water may be turned off at either of two locations:
At the main meter, which controls the water flow to the entire property.
At the water main leading into the home. If you may need an emergency source of fresh water, it is better to shut off your water here, because it will conserve the water in your water heater.
Attach a valve wrench to the water line. (This tool can be purchased at most hardware stores.) Label the water mains for quick identification.
Arranging and securing household items
Arrange furniture so that chairs and beds are away from windows, mirrors, and picture frames.
Place heavy or large items on lower shelves.
Secure your large appliances, especially your water heater, with flexible cable, braided wire, or metal strapping.
Identify top-heavy, free-standing furniture, such as bookcases and china cabinets, that could topple over.
Secure your furniture by using one of two methods:
"L" brackets, corner brackets, or aluminum molding, to attach tall or top-heavy furniture to the wall.
Eyebolts, to secure items located a short distance from the wall.
Install sliding bolts or childproof latches on all cabinet doors.
Store all hazardous materials such as poisons and solvents:
in a sturdy, latched or locked cabinet
in a well-ventilated area
away from emergency food or water supplies
Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)