OPINION: A conversation worth having: Weather safety and public storm shelters
Tuesday, September 18, 2012 4:29 AM
Does your community have public storm shelters? Where would the public at an area park or large outdoor event go if severe storms developed? Is your community taking action to ensure public storm shelters are available?
Detecting a severe weather threat and warning the public are key steps in protecting lives. Area communities and the National Weather Service (NWS) continue to work toward improving this process so people get as much advance notice as possible regarding potential hazards and impacts.
However, this is only part of the process. The actions people take in response to severe weather information are also very important.
What would you do if you were at an outdoor event with thousands of other people and a tornado was bearing down on the area? Even 15 minutes of warning might not be sufficient to evacuate everyone from the area.
And where would those people go, considering they might not know for sure where the tornado would strike? In these cases, having adequate shelter can be important - perhaps even a lifesaver.
This past year, people at a large softball tournament in Kansas City had to quickly evacuate or seek shelter when severe weather rapidly approached.
In St. Louis, one died and over 120 were injured while seeking shelter in a tent as damaging winds blew through the area.
And at the Indiana State Fair in August 2011, a line of severe thunderstorms blew down a stage just before a grandstand performance, killing several people.
In an assessment of the March 2007 tornadoes that struck southern Alabama and Georgia, the NWS stated that "hardened safe rooms can be especially beneficial" for just this type of hazard.
The NWS encourages every community to review their severe weather action plans and ensure it includes guidance or options for the public when outdoors during approaching severe weather.
The NWS Weather Ready Nation plan emphasizes the role of communities to better prepare the American public for hazardous weather and environmental events.
The NWS is also exploring new ways to serve community emergency responders through increased community presence because accurate, early and trusted warnings are just the initial requirement for saving lives. A community-based public preparedness program will generate a more effective response.
Many communities are building public storm shelter facilities in some of their more vulnerable locations where large numbers of people might gather.
Many schools are installing multi-purpose tornado safe rooms that can provide protection for a large number of students and visitors. Some communities designate public storm shelters and provide a listing of these shelter locations to their residents.
September is National Preparedness Month - a time for communities to get prepared for emergencies. Be a pro-active community.
Review or develop a severe weather action plan that includes ideas for before, during and after the storm. Consider storm shelter options for areas where people gather and could be most vulnerable. Now is the time to talk about this, to ensure readiness for next year's severe weather season.
How can you plan to improve the weather readiness of your community? Start the conversation in your community now. FEMA has an excellent web page with information to help communities plan safe rooms at www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/public.shtm.
The NWS severe weather planning web page is located at www.nws.noaa.gov/com/weatherreadynation/news/042412_plan.html.
An excellent website for developing and making a severe weather plan can be found at www.ready.gov.
The La Crosse NWS Preparedness web site is located at www.crh.noaa.gov/arx/?n=prepare.
For more information, contact Warning Coordination Meteorologist Todd Shea (ext. 726) or Meteorologist-in-Charge Glenn Lussky (ext. 642) at the National Weather Service Office in La Crosse (608) 784-8275.