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Residents Urged to Plan Ahead Before a Tornado Arrives

People who live in places without basements might consider going to a friend’s house, or checking with local schools and churches to see if they will open their storm shelters for community members.

A tornado.
(TNS) - If a tornado is approaching and you can’t access a basement or storm shelter, the general rule of thumb is to “get to the lowest point and get as many walls between you and the outside as possible,” says Dusty Nichols.

But Nichols, Shawnee County’s director of emergency management, encourages residents here to seek to avoid that potential predicament by creating a plan that safely and effectively spells out what they’ll do and where they’ll go in times of severe weather.

People who live in places without basements might consider going to a friend’s house, or checking with local schools and churches to see if they will open their storm shelters for community members, he said.

Nichols isn’t aware of any public shelters to direct people to access in times of of severe weather, he said Wednesday.

“I have heard of some community churches and schools that will have shelters available, but people will need to check the availability of those on their own,” he said.

Nichols also encouraged residents to stay “weather aware” by using their radios, TV sets, computers or smart phones to keep track of what forecasters are saying about the potential of severe weather and whether any storm systems might be headed their way.

“If you have no storm shelter in your apartment building, and you can move out of the way of the storm (or storm projections), do that,” he said. “These days, it is unlikely a storm, and in particular a tornado, will come with no advanced warning. Staying weather aware is absolutely key.”

Public storm shelters were offered here for one day only on June 5, 2008, a day the National Weather Service forecast a particularly high potential for tornadoes.

Then-county emergency management director Dave Sterbenz said about 165 people took shelter that day at the Kansas Expocentre while temporary shelters at Seaman High School and Tecumseh South Elementary School attracted 35 people and three people, respectively.

Topeka escaped major damage that day as a severe storm headed its way diminished before getting to the city, then intensified after it passed.

Nichols said he knows from past experience that people in charge of some local restaurants, shopping establishments and public events don’t monitor potential severe weather or publicly share their plans regarding what to do if severe weather develops.

“Some businesses have not even identified a storm shelter in their facility or tested it or evaluated it to see if it would be big enough to hold their guests,” he said. “It really is on the individual to make plans and a decision for themselves. Do not assume a store or business will allow you to take shelter.”

Nichols recalled how, a few years ago, Shawnee County’s outdoor warning siren system was set off during the early afternoon on a Saturday.

“It was reported to me later that people attempted to gain entry to a local store, but the manager had locked the doors and he, the staff and the shoppers in the building at the time took shelter inside,” he said. “No one could get in.”

Nichols encouraged local residents to each carry out a “personal risk assessment,” which involves identifying potential hazards, defining the risks associated with those hazards and identifying the best ways to eliminate or control those hazards.

When a severe weather warning is issued, he said residents should “move quickly, take cover and then ask questions and monitor the situation.”

More on how to best prepare for severe weather situations can be found on websites maintained by the federal government sharing information about threat-specific safety situations and how to create plans, Nichols said.

Visual simulations and detailed safety information regarding storm preparedness are also available on federal websites, he said.


(c)2021 The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.

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