Tornado-Ready Families — “Mom, You Have 5 Seconds!”

Kansas storm, June 2011 (photo by Anna R. Newman).

There is a common tongue-in-cheek joke that those of us from Kansas are fond of repeating.  We say that you really know if someone is from Kansas when the tornado siren sounds and they go to the front yard.  If you’re from the Midwest, you know the dangers of tornadoes all too well – most of us have lived though one or helped friends and neighbors pick up debris and put their life back together after a funnel ripped it all away.  But we also know they happen so often in spring, that we can’t help but taunt them a little.
About three years ago, I was still in Kansas and a storm was rolling through.  I could see the storm line, not far away, but far enough that we weren’t getting pounded with rain just yet.  And a tiny funnel materialized above the field across from my house.  So, in true Kansas form, I picked up my camera and stood in the yard, taking pictures of it.

Kansas storm, June 2011 (photo by Anna R. Newman).
Kansas storm, June 2011 (photo by Anna R. Newman).

Meanwhile, my 10-year-old son hauled our storm cooler of flashlights, dry goods and water down into the cellar, along with a stack of blankets.  He put our cat into her kennel and took that down the stairs as well.  Then he came to our front door and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Mom, you have exactly five seconds to get inside!”
It’s funny, right?  I always laugh when I tell that story, but internally chide myself that he did all the things I should have been doing as his parent, instead of taking pictures.  But remembering that moment also reminds me that I can also be grateful my son knew exactly what to do.  If, for some reason, I hadn’t been there, he did all the right things.  He knew where to go and what to have with him.
For most of the United States, the peak of tornado season is April through June.  Tornadoes, of course, can occur at any time of the year, but this spring season is typically the time they are spotted the most.  And it’s important for families to have a plan for what to do in the event of a storm and talk it though with their children, even the smallest ones.  There are three straightforward elements to becoming a family prepared for the possible dangers of a tornado.
The first is to have an emergency kit.  An emergency kit should have a weather radio, flashlights, batteries, some basic tools, a whistle, a first-aid kit, dry, non-perishable food items, and water.  You can also tailor it to the needs of your family by adding cash, prescription medications, blankets, a change of clothes for each person, and games or books.
The second is a solid action plan.  If there is a tornado, and everyone is at home, where is the safest place to go?  In structures, the recommended place is a basement, cellar, or interior room on the lowest level.  If you are in a mobile home, paying attention to early storm signs and going to a community shelter as the first warning might be an option to look into.
The third is a good communication system.  If you are separated during a tornado, identify a location that you will all try to meet at following the storm.  Who is someone (possibly out of the immediate area) that you can all call to check in with?
The most important thing adults can do to keep children from panicking is to give them the tools and knowledge – well ahead of time – that empower them to make smart decisions when the storm comes.  Prepared families are the cornerstone of a storm-ready community.

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