Be Prepared Part 4 – Tornado Safety

On average, Canada gets 62 verified tornadoes per year, however the actual number is closer to 230.   Of the verified tornadoes, Saskatchewan has the highest per province with about 18 tornadoes.

Quick facts you should know about tornadoes:

  • They may strike quickly, with little or no warning.
  • They may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms in the funnel.
  • The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction.
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph.
  • Tornadoes can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.
  • Waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water.
  • Tornadoes are most frequently reported east of the Rocky Mountains during spring and summer months.
  • Peak tornado season in the southern states is March through May; in the northern states, it is late spring through early summer.
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3 pm and 9 pm, but can occur at any time.

Taking Shelter

Your family could be anywhere when a tornado strikes–at home, at work, at school, or in the car. Discuss with your family where the best tornado shelters are and how family members can protect themselves from flying and falling debris.

The key to surviving a tornado and reducing the risk of injury lies in planning, preparing, and practicing what you and your family will do if a tornado strikes. Flying debris causes most deaths and injuries during a tornado. Although there is no completely safe place during a tornado, some locations are much safer than others.

At Home

Pick a place in the home where family members can gather if a tornado is headed your way. One basic rule is AVOID WINDOWS. An exploding window can injure or kill.

The safest place in the home is the interior part of a basement. If there is no basement, go to an inside room, without windows, on the lowest floor. This could be a center hallway, bathroom, or closet.

For added protection, get under something sturdy such as a heavy table or workbench. If possible, cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag, or mattress, and protect your head with anything available–even your hands. Avoid taking shelter where there are heavy objects, such as pianos or refrigerators, on the area of floor that is directly above you. They could fall though the floor if the tornado strikes your house.

In a Mobile Home

DO NOT STAY IN A MOBILE HOME DURING A TORNADO. Mobile homes can turn over during strong winds. Even mobile homes with a tie-down system cannot withstand the force of tornado winds.

Plan ahead. If you live in a mobile home, go to a nearby building, preferably one with a basement. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine, or culvert and shield your head with your hands.

If you live in a tornado-prone area, encourage your mobile home community to build a tornado shelter.

On the Road

The least desirable place to be during a tornado is in a motor vehicle. Cars, buses, and trucks are easily tossed by tornado winds.

DO NOT TRY TO OUTRUN A TORNADO IN YOUR CAR. If you see a tornado, stop your vehicle. Do not get under your vehicle.

Outdoors

Do the following if you are caught outside during a tornado and there is no adequate shelter immediately available:

  • Avoid areas with many trees.
  • Protect your head with an object or with your arms.

Long-Span Buildings

A long-span building, such as a shopping mall, theater, or gymnasium, is especially dangerous because the roof structure is usually supported solely by the outside walls. Most such buildings hit by tornados cannot withstand the enormous pressure. They simply collapse.

If you are in a long-span building during a tornado, stay away from windows. Get to the lowest level of the building–the basement if possible–and away from the windows.

If there is no time to get to a tornado shelter or to a lower level, try to get under a door frame or get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. For instance, in a department store, get up against heavy shelving or counters. In a theater, get under the seats. Remember to protect your head.

Office Buildings, Schools, Hospitals, Churches, and Other Public Buildings

Extra care is required in offices, schools, hospitals, or any building where a large group of people is concentrated in a small area. The exterior walls of such buildings often have large windows.

Do the following if you are in any of these buildings:

  • Move away from windows and glass doorways.
  • Go to the innermost part of the building on the lowest possible floor.
  • Do not use elevators because the power may fail, leaving you trapped.
  • Protect your head and make yourself as small a target as possible by crouching down.

Be Prepared (Part 3a) – Fire Escape Plan

Basic fire escape planning – Create a home escape plan

Your ability to get out depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning.

  • Pull together everyone in your household and make a plan. Walk through your home and inspect all possible exits and escape routes.  Households with children should consider drawing a floor plan of your home, marking two ways out of each room, including windows and doors. Also, mark the location of each smoke alarm. For easy planning, download NFPA’s escape planning grid (PDF, 1.1 MB). This is a great way to get children involved in fire safety in a non-threatening way.
  • Install smoke alarms in every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home.
  • Everyone in the household must understand the escape plan. When you walk through your plan, check to make sure the escape routes are clear and doors and windows can be opened easily.
  • Choose an outside meeting place (i.e. neighbor’s house, a light post, mailbox, or stop sign) a safe distance in front of your home where everyone can meet after they’ve escaped. Make sure to mark the location of the meeting place on your escape plan.
  • Have everyone memorize the emergency phone number of the fire department. That way any member of the household can call from a neighbor’s home or a cellular phone once safely outside.
  • If there are infants, older adults, or family members with mobility limitations, make sure that someone is assigned to assist them in the fire drill and in the event of an emergency. Assign a backup person too, in case the designee is not home during the emergency.
  • Tell guests or visitors to your home about your family’s fire escape plan. When staying overnight at other people’s homes, ask about their escape plan. If they don’t have a plan in place, offer to help them make one. This is especially important when children are permitted to attend “sleepovers” at friends’ homes. See NFPA’s “Sleepover fire safety for kids” fact sheet.
  • Be fully prepared for a real fire: when a smoke alarm sounds, get out immediately.
  • Once you’re out, stay out! Under no circumstances should you ever go back into a burning building. If someone is missing, inform the fire department dispatcher when you call. Firefighters have the skills and equipment to perform rescues.

Putting your plan to the test

  • Practice your home fire escape plan twice a year, making the drill as realistic as possible.
  • Smoke alarms: Some studies have shown that children may not awaken to the sound of the smoke alarm.  (Mine won’t)
  • Make arrangements in your plan for anyone in your home who has a disability.
  • Allow children to master fire escape planning and practice before holding a fire drill at night when they are sleeping. The objective is to practice, not to frighten, so telling children there will be a drill before they go to bed can be as effective as a surprise drill.
  • It’s important to determine during the drill whether children and others can readily waken to the sound of the smoke alarm. If they fail to awaken, make sure that someone is assigned to wake them up as part of the drill and in a real emergency situation.
  • If your home has two floors, every family member (including children) must be able to escape from the second floor rooms. Escape ladders can be placed in or near windows to provide an additional escape route. Review the manufacturer’s instructions carefully so you’ll be able to use a safety ladder in an emergency. Practice setting up the ladder from a first floor window to make sure you can do it correctly and quickly. Children should only practice with a grown-up, and only from a first-story window. Store the ladder near the window, in an easily accessible location. You don’t want to have to search for it during a fire.
  • Always choose the escape route that is safest – the one with the least amount of smoke and heat – but be prepared to escape under toxic smoke if necessary. When you do your fire drill, everyone in the family should practice getting low and going under the smoke to your exit.
  • Closing doors on your way out slows the spread of fire, giving you more time to safely escape.
  • In some cases, smoke or fire may prevent you from exiting your home or apartment building. To prepare for an emergency like this, practice “sealing yourself in for safety” as part of your home fire escape plan. Close all doors between you and the fire. Use duct tape or towels to seal the door cracks and cover air vents to keep smoke from coming in. If possible, open your windows at the top and bottom so fresh air can get in. Call the fire department to report your exact location. Wave a flashlight or light-colored cloth at the window to let the fire department know where you are located.

Be Prepared (Part 2) – What to do after the Emergency

After an emergency

These are general instructions that apply to many emergencies but not every situation is the same. These tips can also apply during an emergency.

  • Try to stay calm.
  • Check yourself and others for injuries. Give first aid to people who are injured or trapped. Take care of life-threatening situations first. Get help if necessary.
  • Check on neighbours, especially the elderly or people with disabilities.
  • Confine or secure pets.
  • Use the battery-operated radio from your emergency kit to listen for information and instructions.
  • Do not use the telephone except to report a life-threatening injury. Please leave the lines free for official use.
  • If possible, put on sturdy shoes and protective clothing to help prevent injury from debris, especially broken glass.
  • If you are inside, check the building for structural damage. If you suspect it is unsafe, leave and do not re-enter.
  • Do not turn on light switches or light matches until you are sure that there aren’t any gas leaks or flammable liquids spilled. Use a flashlight to check utilities.
  • Do not shut off utilities unless they are damaged, leaking (a gas leak smells like rotten eggs) or if there is a fire. If you turn the gas off, don’t turn it on again. That must be done by a qualified technician.

If tap water is available, fill a bathtub and other containers in case the supply gets cut off.

If there is no running water, remember that you may have water available in a hot water tank, toilet reservoir or in ice cube trays.

  • Water supplies may be contaminated so purify your water.
  • Do not flush toilets if you suspect that sewer lines are broken.
  • If you are in a high-rise building, do not use the elevator in case of power outage. If you are in an elevator, push every floor button and get out as soon as possible.
  • Pick up your children from school or the pre-determined collection point.
  • Stay away from damaged areas unless you are asked to help or are qualified to give assistance.
  • Do not go near loose or dangling power lines. Downed power lines can cause fires and carry sufficient power to cause harm. Report them and any broken sewer and water mains to the authorities.
  • If the power has been off for several hours, check the food in the refrigerator and freezer in case it has spoiled.

Be Prepared (Part 1)

It seems every day there is some type of emergency event reported on the news.  I am hoping to do a quick series of information days on Thursdays about emergency preparedness.  While many things are common sense, it never hurts to go through a quick review.  So a quick overview:

Who does what in an emergency?

When it comes to emergency preparedness and emergency management, we all have a role to play.

  • You should be prepared to take care of yourself and your family for a minimum of 72 hours during an emergency. You should also understand the basic principles of first aid and safety.

Every disaster is a local disaster. Different levels of organizations respond progressively as an emergency escalates and their resources are needed. The first ones to respond are closest to the emergency.

When to call 9-1-1

  • Report a fire
  • Report a crime
  • Save a life

For non-emergency calls, use the 310-RCMP number.

In case of a major emergency

  • Follow your emergency plan
  • Get your emergency kit
  • Make sure you are safe before assisting others.
  • Listen to the radio or television for information from local officials and follow their instructions.
  • Stay put until all is safe or until you are ordered to evacuate.

Shelter-in-place

You may be instructed to “shelter-in-place” if chemical, biological or radiological contaminants are released into the environment. This means you must remain inside your home or office and protect yourself there. The following steps will help maximize your protection:

  • Close and lock all windows and exterior doors.
  • Turn off all fans, heating and air-conditioning systems to avoid drawing in air from the outside.
  • Close the fireplace damper.
  • Get your emergency kit and make sure the radio is working.
  • Go to an interior room that’s above ground level (if possible, one without windows). In the case of a chemical threat, an above-ground location is preferable because some chemicals are heavier than air and may seep into basements even if the windows are closed.
  • Using duct or other wide tape, seal all cracks around the door and any vents into the room.
  • Continue to monitor your radio or television until you are told all is safe or are advised to evacuate.

Evacuation orders

Authorities will not ask you to leave your home unless they have reason to believe you are in danger.  Listen to them.

If you are ordered to evacuate, take:

  • your emergency kit
  • your emergency plan
  • essential medications and copies of prescriptions
  • a cellular phone (if you have one)
  • your pets

Pets are not allowed in some emergency shelters, so plan in advance for a pet-friendly location.

Protect your home:

  • Shut off water.
  • Leave natural gas service on, unless officials tell you to turn it off. (If you turn off the gas, the gas company has to reconnect it. In a major emergency, it could take weeks for a professional to respond. You would be without gas for heating and cooking).
  • Lock your home.

If you have time:

  • Call or e-mail your out-of-town contact. Tell them where you are going and when you expect to arrive. (Once you are safe, let them know. Tell them if any family members have become separated.)
  • Leave a note telling others when you left and where you are going.

Emergency Flood Reduction Q&A

The Government of Saskatchewan officially launched the 2015 Emergency Flood Damage Reduction Program (EFDRP) today (April 8).  Below is Q&A on the EFDRP that we thought you would find useful.

  1. What is the Emergency Flood Damage Reduction Program (EFDRP)?
    1. This program provides engineering and technical assistance to municipalities while sharing the cost of permanent and temporary flood prevention works.  The EFDRP covers 100 per cent of costs for engineering assistance and reimburses individuals for 85 per cent and communities and businesses for 75 per cent of the cost of approved, permanent flood protection works built to provide protection from imminent flooding in 2015.  These include projects like berms, culverts and lift station work.
  2. Is there enough time to get projects completed to deal with the flood?
    1. Yes.  We are already working with clients.  Fortunately the flood risk is lower this year, but we have engineers and technical experts available to provide assistance.
  3. What kinds of projects will be required?
      1. A common need will be berms to protect a yard site from rising water.
      2. Ditches to move flood water away from development will also be needed.
      3. The program will also assist with pumping and other temporary measures.
  1. What is new about the program this year
    1. The program in previous years was very effective, so only modest changes are being made.
      1. New this year, is the inclusion of private water wells for human consumptive purposes.
      2. The program will cover 100 per cent of the costs to test private water wells for human consumptive purposes.
      3. We felt that safe drinking water is something that should be included in the program and made this enhancement.
  1.  Who is eligible?
      1. Rural residents, businesses and municipalities facing imminent flood damage to businesses or homes.
      2. The program does not cover any costs to protect farmland from flooding.
  2. What will the program support?
      1. The program will support work to prevent imminent flooding.  An engineer or technical expert visits the site and determines the best approach to prevent flooding.
      2. If the situation is urgent WSA will give its approval by phone and will provide reimbursement for eligible works constructed before approval was granted.
      3. The program will support construction of permanent works such as berms, channels, and larger culverts as well as temporary measures like pumping, sand, and sand bags.
  3. Will you reimburse people who have already done flood protection work?
      1. If individuals or communities have already initiated work that would otherwise qualify, the program will cover those costs.  They must contact Water Security Agency as soon as possible.
  4. How to you qualify for funding?
    1. Projects must be approved by the WSA in order to qualify for funding.  Requests for assistance under the program should be directed to the nearest WSA regional office or by calling toll free at 1-866-727-5420.

For more information about the EFDRP please visit https://www.wsask.ca/About-WSA/News-Releases/2015/April/Water-Security-Agency-Launches-2015-Emergency-Flood-Damage-Reduction-Program/.