2002 Annual

Sunday, 13 January 2002
Activating Your School’s Tornado Emergency Plan: Are You Ready for the Unexpected?
Andrea Dawn Melvin, Oklahoma Climatological Survey, Norman, OK; and K. A. Kloesel
Poster PDF (19.1 kB)
The 3 May 1999 Oklahoma Tornado Outbreak provided evidence of how design features commonly used in schools respond to tornadic winds. In the author’s 2001 paper, “Example Damage to School Structures from the 3 May 1999 Tornado Outbreak: How Safe Is Your School’s Tornado Emergency Plan?”, improper construction techniques, poor-quality construction material, and inadequate connections between structural elements caused failures in residential and non-residential buildings. A significant amount of damage could be avoided by applying and enforcing higher-standard building codes designed specifically for high wind events. Over the next two decades new schools will be built. Careful consideration must be given to design elements used in the construction of school buildings. New school facilities must be designed with engineered shelters (tested for high-wind resistance).

Burling and Hyle surveyed natural disaster plans from school districts around the country. In areas affected by possible disasters form nuclear power plant accidents and earthquakes, the school disaster plans included what to do before, during, and after the disaster. But in areas where weather-related disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes threaten little guidance is provided. The strength of the building is only the first element of a school’s tornado emergency plan. Equal consideration must be given to the procedures for moving occupants to and from designated shelter areas.

Typically, school emergency drills (i.e., fire or tornado) take place when students are in their homeroom classes. Usually, the teachers and students are warned that a drill will take place. Drills are run twice a year in March and April. All three of these reduce the effectiveness of the drill. In a tornado emergency, odds are that students will not be in a “convenient” location. They may be at recess or gym class where noise levels are high. Warning occupants of an impending drill does not give them the opportunity to experience the physiological sensations of fear, panic and anxiety. The adults will not be able to practice managing a large group on the verge of losing control. Having drills only in “storm season” gives a false sense of security during the rest of the year when tornadoes are possible but with a lower probability of occurrence. This paper will look at the human factors that must be considered when creating a weather emergency plan.

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