Is Your School at Risk?

Tornadoes in the Midwest

Some natural disasters can be predicted, giving schools enough warning to evacuate or take other safety precautions, but others can happen unexpectedly or go through rapid changes that suddenly put a school in danger. The first step schools should take in preparing for these types of emergencies is to assess the natural disaster risks in their areas. The map (see page 2) can help schools determine their likelihood of being affected by natural disasters like these:

  • Winter storms & extreme cold
  • Extreme heat
  • Wildfires
  • Thunderstorms & lightning
  • Tornadoes
  • Landslides & debris flow

For the sake of this publication, we will focus on tornadoes.

Tornadoes at School

Around 1,200 tornadoes occur in the United States every year, ranging from mild to severe. Those who live in areas where tornadoes are common may know a storm is coming just by looking outside: a dark, greenish sky; hail and debris; and loud winds. However, it is very difficult to predict exactly where a tornado will hit, and once it forms, it moves quickly. Immediate response is necessary to protect everyone in the building when a tornado hits at school.

Warnings & Alerts

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average lead time for a tornado warning is 13 minutes, but some tornadoes give  little warning at all. Schools should be equipped with weather radios tuned to NOAA stations so faculty can get tornado alerts immediately. Some communities have tornado sirens and may send text messages and emails alerts when a tornado approaches.

Getting Your School Prepared

Students and staff should know exactly what to do and where to go when tornado warnings are issued.
Here’s how schools can prepare for tornadoes.

Create a safety plan

Start by planning out exactly where students should go and what they should do during a tornado. This must be tailored to the building the students are in and how quickly they can be moved to a safe place.

Find the safest location

Move all students to the lowest floor. Avoid any areas with span roofs, such as cafeterias or gyms. Keep away from windows and evacuate students from portable classrooms. Students should crouch low and keep their heads down.

Practice makes perfect

Tornado drills are essential in order to see the traffic flow, find areas big enough to hold all the kids safely and ensure that everyone moves efficiently.
Tweak, tweak, tweak

Watch the drill in progress, and make notes on what needs to be changed. When those changes are made, ensure every person involved in the drill knows the new protocol.

Stay informed

The school should always be alert for severe weather warnings. Everyone in the office should be ready to act when a warning is issued. Have a strong alert system to keep teachers informed as well.

Plan for the aftermath

If the tornado does hit the school, stay calm and swing into action. Help injured students, move everyone away from damaged areas and activate parent information lines.