The most important part of ensuring your school is safe from severe storms is to develop an action plan with frequent drills throughout the year. It is important to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to a tornado safety plan. School buildings should be inspected and shelter areas identified by a registered engineer. Once these shelter areas are designated, then a plan should be tailored around being able to move people to those areas quickly.
Basements offer the best protection, but for schools without basements interior rooms or hallways away from windows and glass are the next best things. Flying debris is the biggest tornado hazard and causes the most injuries! That's why it is important to put as many interior walls as possible between you and a tornado.
These buildings are often constructed like mobile homes and can be just as dangerous during severe storms. Your tornado safety plan must include getting students out of portable classrooms quickly and into a safe area within the main building. If possible students should be evacuated from portable classrooms before the severe weather begins or when a tornado watch is issued, not a tornado warning. That is why it is important for all schools to have a NOAA Weather Radio with battery backup. Having someone monitoring this radio can give you a head start if severe weather is approaching!
Large open areas like gymnasiums, auditoriums, and lunchrooms can be very dangerous and should not be used as shelter areas. These types of rooms have structural weaknesses and lack of roof support, making them prone to collapsing during severe wind and weather.
If the school’s tornado alarm relies on electricity, have an alternative method to notify faculty and students of the warning in case of a power failure. A large bull horn or whistle are considered good alternatives. Make sure all faculty and students are aware of the alternative warning signals.
Students with physical disabilities can take longer to move to shelter areas. Moving these students when a watch is issued will insure getting them into safety shelter areas before the storm hits.
Crouch low on your knees, head down and cover the back of your head and neck with your arms. Crawling under a desk or table in this position can offer you more protection as well.
If severe weather is approaching keep students after until the severe weather passes. Students are safer inside the school than in a car or bus.
Having several tornado drills throughout the year will insure the smoothest transfer of students to shelter areas. Seconds count during severe weather and the quicker you can get them to the designated safety areas the less chance for injuries or fatalities!