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The most important part of ensuring your school is safe from severe storms is to develop a good safety/action plan, complete with frequent drills that are exercised throughout the year. It is important to realize that one size does not fit all when it comes to a tornado safety plan.
School buildings need to be inspected and shelter areas identified by a registered engineer. Once the shelter areas are designated, then a safety plan should be tailored around being able to move people to those areas quickly. If there is one idea that works in nearly all scenarios of developing a plan, it's this: "Put as many walls between you and the storm, as possible."
Perhaps the most important part in this process is being ready before severe weather strikes.
Educate Yourself. Preparedness is easier when you understand the possible threat(s) and the meaning of weather terms. Know the difference between a Storm Watch and a Storm Warning. Educate yourself on severe weather and how the warning process works.
Hazardous Weather Outlooks (HWO) are issued daily from the National Weather Service (NWS) and can alert you of expected hazards out to seven days. These outlooks are broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio between 6 am and 12 pm.
Develop an Action Plan. If you do not currently have a severe weather action plan for your school, developing one will be a large part of your preparedness work. The information in this document could be considered as part of your plan. Your county emergency management agency or regional NWS office can assist in the process and provide guidance. The plan for your school will have to be tailored to your building's particular set up.
Physical Layout of School/Buildings – Closely examine the layout of your structure. You'll need to determine your designated shelter areas. Use a map of the school and physically tour the building(s) with your top school officials. You may also want to invite local fire department personnel, emergency management, or building engineer to assist. Ideally, students should be moved to the lowest level(s) possible, to interior rooms away from exterior walls and windows that may fail in the event of a tornado or strong, damaging winds.
Shelter Considerations – There are many things to consider when mapping out shelter areas. Also, take into account non-routine school activities or other times the buildings are being used.
Notification – Develop a method to notify everyone to seek shelter. It could be a speaker system, special tone, or bell, but ensure you have a backup method (air horn or megaphone) in the event you lose electricity. Ensure everyone knows what the notification signal is. Shelters should be clearly marked as such, with arrows directing people to the safer areas.
School Bus Considerations – Your school safety plan should include what bus drivers should do while at the school or during transportation.
Practice and Review Your Action Plan. You should practice and review your severe weather action plan relatively often. If your plan is new, a few practice run-throughs are suggested, in case you need to revise shelter choices before finalizing it.
Practice will not only help confirm the validity of your plan and illustrate any deficiencies to be addressed, but can educate students and staff on proper responses during severe weather.
Your safety plan should be reviewed at least annually, and any time changes are made to the physical building, shelters or classroom sizes. A good time to practice is during annual Statewide Tornado Drills, held in Ohio during Severe Weather Awareness Week, the fourth week in March.
Inform parents of your action plan which might involve students remaining or being delayed at school beyond regular hours, if severe weather is threatening.
Source of Weather Information. Another key in being prepared is having a good and dependable source of weather information. Even the best action plan is no good if incoming severe weather or related warnings are not monitored.
Whether you use commercial radio, television, private service, a community outdoor siren, or the internet, your school should also have a NOAA Weather Radio as a direct source of watches and warnings directly from the National Weather Service.
A NOAA Weather Radio continuously monitors the issuance of these types of alerts and can give you advance notice, allowing you time to plan or activate your safety plan. A desktop model radio can be placed in a central office, allowing full monitoring by administrative staff. A weather radio also has a battery back-up, in case of power loss.
The Grafton Kennedy Elementary School in Dayton was destroyed after a tornado touched down the night of May 28, 2019, in Montgomery County. Ironically, Grafton Kennedy Elementary was slated for demolition that summer, as part of Northridge's move to a new K-12 campus.
Monitor Weather Conditions. Use your source of weather information to keep abreast of approaching storms, their severity, and reported severe weather. A NOAA Weather Radio will alert you if any watches or warnings are in effect or issued for your area. If a Watch has been issued, pay special attention to changing weather conditions and be ready to take action if it progresses to a Warning, or if severe weather is imminent.
If your school has a designated storm spotter, have them be in position. Short-range radios might be a good idea for communication between the spotter(s) and school administrator or office.
If amateur radio operators or fire department personnel do storm spotting in your community, their radio traffic can be monitored via a scanner. This may be another option for real-time storm conditions.
Act! Respect all warnings and assume severe weather will strike your area. Understand that you may have false alarms, but that is far better than not being prepared when your facility is struck.
Use your action plan by ensuring:
School Bus Considerations:
Meet with your staff and review each action item. Adjust or append your plan as needed, just as you would after the spring tornado drill or other practices. Your county emergency management agency or regional NWS office may have additional reference or guidance information.