Your most precious asset is your family. These life-saving tornado tips for families help all of you understand what to do in a worst-case scenario.
As we all learned from the May 2013 EF5 tornado in Oklahoma, even our children are not immune from the devastation a tornado leaves behind. While we can't possibly keep our kids protected 100% of the time, we can do everything in our power to make sure they're prepared should they find themselves in a situation where a tornado is quickly approaching.
1. Develop a Tornado Safety Plan for Your Kids
Tornadoes are terrifying. A funnel can start spinning at any moment and not give you or your family much time to take shelter before it touches down.
Even with a sophisticated tornado warning system, you still can't predict if, when or where a tornado will strike. That's why you need to talk about tornado safety with your kids long before severe weather hits.
Develop a tornado safety plan ahead of time. Your plan should lay out exactly where your family will go the second you hear the tornado sirens go off or the moment severe weather starts to develop.
2. Know the School's Tornado Safety Plan
In a rush of panic, you may think it's best to jump in the car and head to school to get to your children. This can put you in greater danger than your kids.
Of course, you want to be with your kids and get to them as fast as possible. Typically, your children are safer where they are because, just as we've seen in the news, teachers put their own lives in danger to protect their students.
Know your school's tornado safety plan in advance to give you peace of mind. Even ask if you can sit in on your school's tornado drills to see how they manage the students. You may discover tips you can add to your own tornado safety plan for your kids.
3. Prepare a Disaster Supplies Kit
Prepare a disaster supplies kit that stays in your designated shelter area at home.
Also prepare a separate kit for the car because you never know where you'll be when disaster strikes.
This is a family project so get everyone involved. That way, each one of you will know which supplies are in the kits should your kids need anything from bandages to flashlights.
4. Practice Tornado Drills
Tornadoes are especially scary when you're in public away from your safe place or your kids are at school or a friend's house, separated from you during severe weather. Don't just talk about what your family will do if there's a tornado.
Practice it. You may find your son runs to his room to get his pet turtle and that's something you definitely don't want to happen in a life or death situation as a tornado bears down on your home.
Simulate sirens and get to your family's safe place. Set a time limit to make sure everyone gets to your designated shelter quickly. Even surprise your family with drills so you'll know how they respond regardless of what they're doing.
When you're out in public or on the road, point out areas that would be good places to take shelter should a tornado strike. Your point isn't to try and scare your children. You simply want them to be prepared.
5. Show Kids How to Use a Weather Radio
There may be times when you're out of the house and severe weather strikes.
Show your kids how to use a weather radio instead of relying on the TV. Power could go out. The station's signal could get lost.
There are a number of reasons why a weather radio can continually keep you updated on the storms and even tornadoes approaching your home. Show your kids how to use a weather radio so they'll never be in the dark about what's going on outside.
6. Tell Your Kids to Stay with an Adult
As scared as your children may be, especially if they're not with you, they need to understand that the adult they're with is a safer alternative than trying to go find you. Even adults think they can outrun a storm or that they're better off just trying to get home. But that's not the case.
Your kids need to know that leaving the teacher or friend's parent that they're already with is not an option.
They should never try to get home or find you.
7. Take the Warnings Seriously
When sirens go off or the weather radio sounds, they shouldn't be ignored. Be a good example and take the warnings seriously so your kids will too.
Get in your safe place every time you're warned of severe weather. Teach your kids to do the same, whether they're playing at a friend's or at home alone.
8. Seek Shelter
If you've developed a tornado safety plan for your kids, they know where to seek shelter at home. But what about when they're not at home?
Kids should know how to find adequate shelter no matter where they are at the moment. They need to get inside and go to the lowest-lying floor, if possible. Tell them to stay away from all glass and put as many walls in between them and the outside of the building as they can. Blankets, pillows and mattresses are great covers to keep their heads safe but they should not waste time searching for these items because a tornado can bear down on them in instant.
9. Stay Calm
It's hard enough for adults to stay calm when a tornado is ripping through the neighborhood. Imagine how it is for children trying to comprehend what's happening when they're so young they don't fully understand their feelings.
Help them keep calm. Practice stress-relieving breathing exercises together. Pick kid-friendly songs that you will sing every time there's severe weather. Make it a habit to stay calm with your children so they can stay calm too, even if they're not with you should a tornado strike.
10. Decide What You'll Do in the Aftermath
It's hard to think clearly in the aftermath of a tornado. The devastation is horrifying.
Know exactly what you and your family will do should a tornado touch down. If you're with your children, they should know to stick with you and be good listeners.
But if they're at school or somewhere else, they may be shocked and confused. Kids will be just as desperate to find their parents as the parents are to find them.
Cell towers may be down. Traffic pileups may prevent you from getting to your children right away.
There may be debris everywhere, including downed power lines that make your journey to them too dangerous. And you certainly don't want them to try and navigate their way through tornado rubble to get to you either.
Kids need to know you will get to them as soon as you possibly can. They will need you. That's for sure. But all of you need to stay safe so you can be reunited again.
It will only take minutes for the world to know your city or town has been hit by a tornado. Rescuers will soon be coming to their aide and yours. Let your kids know help is on the way and not to be afraid to scream if they are trapped or otherwise prevented from being seen by a rescue worker.