Tornado safety: What to do before and after disaster strikes

Mother Nature is not known for being predictable when it comes to spring weather in the Midwest. Because of that, it is best for Indiana residents to prepare for the worst.

“Our community has experienced the wrath of tornadoes in the past,” explained Rick Coons, CEO of Indiana Electric Cooperatives, and it’s likely we will again in the future. But if residents prepare ahead of time and are aware of the dangers present during and after a storm, they can help ensure their safety and comfort in the hours, days and weeks that follow.”

Tornadoes can accompany nearly any thunderstorm. This unpredictability is what makes tornadoes so dangerous. Signs to look for include:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large hail
  • A large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating)
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train

While some tornadoes are clearly visible, others are obscured by rain or low-lying clouds. If you see an approaching storm or any of the danger signs, take shelter immediately in a basement, crawl space, or on the lowest level in a building in an interior room, hallway or closet. Do not stay in a mobile home.

“After a storm hits, the dangers haven’t past,” Coons warned. “The aftermath of a storm poses hazards equal to that of the storm itself.” A study of injuries after a tornado in Marion, Ill., showed that 50 percent of injuries were suffered during rescue attempts, cleanup efforts and other post-tornado activities.

Because power lines and other utility equipment are no match for a tornado’s strength, there are risks of fire and electrocution even after the storm passes. Always assume that downed lines are live. There is no safe way for residents to test a line. Never touch downed power lines or objects in contact with downed lines. Als,o consider that downed lines can be obscured by debris and standing water. “Other materials found in storm debris can conduct electricity if they come in contact with a live line,” Coons cautioned. “Stay clear of buildings, structures and debris until utility crews can ensure the safety of the area.”

Sparks from damaged wiring pose a risk for fire and can ignite gas fumes that might be present. If your home or structure is damaged but not destroyed, locate your circuit breaker panel and turn off all individual circuit breakers, then the main circuit breaker, until crews determine the area is safe. Avoid the use of candles and torches if there is a risk that gas fumes might be present.

In addition to Indiana Electric Cooperatives, a number of agencies can assist in preparing for a storm and can help following a storm. They include:

Indianapolis office (317) 684-1441

Sources: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Indiana Department of Homeland Security, Red Cross.