Does your home have a safe room?

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If you’re paying attention to any number of local meteorologists, you probably already know this week is North Carolina’s Severe Weather Preparedness Week. It happens every year near the beginning of climatological spring, also known as March. The state declares a special week in which to focus on preparing for the natural disasters that are most likely to occur here — severe thunderstorms, hail, lightning, flooding, tornadoes… you get the idea.

For me, the most important thing about this annual event is encouraging people to be more situationally aware. Knowing your surroundings is always key to being safe in potentially dangerous situations.

tornado damage

Image of damage from Lone Grove, OK, February 2009. Notice the closet is intact and clothes are still on hangers inside.

Ask yourself, if a tornado were coming my way right now, where would I go? Knowing that “outside to watch it” is not necessarily the best and definitely not the safest answer, let’s look at our options. Does your home or office have a safe room? My guess is that if you define a safe room as a place to hide from Hollywood villains, the answer is probably “no.” While a constructed safe room is actually an option, for the purpose of this discussion, a “safe room” is one that you can enter quickly in the event of an emergency. It should be in the lowest level of the building and an interior room away from windows and exterior walls. This could be a basement, a closet under the stairs, or bathroom as long as it fits the “lowest interior” room qualifications.

Safe rooms aren’t necessarily just for hiding out from tornadoes. Some severe thunderstorms include dangerous straight-line winds that can be as much of a threat as rotating winds. For this reason, severe thunderstorm warnings will often tell you to stay away from windows because flying debris caused by straight-line winds can do as much damage as tornado debris when encountering glass.

In the Midwest, large hail is another reason to stay away from windows because hail there can be as big as softballs, or larger, in their worst severe storms. Our hail tends to be smaller than golf balls here in North Carolina, but never say “never” when it comes to the weather. If we had a freak storm with softball-sized hail, you would definitely be told to stay away from windows.

Think about your home, your work place, the mall, or your favorite restaurant. Where would you go in the event of a tornado warning? How about the the dog park, a nature trail, or the soccer fields? Is there a building nearby that could hold everyone? Each place is going to have a different answer, and in some locations, the answer may simply be “no.” For this reason, weather awareness and situational awareness go hand-in-hand.

Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., there will be a statewide tornado drill, and while your office might not actively participate, you can virtually participate. All you have to do is take a minute at that moment and answer the question, “where would I go if a tornado were bearing down on me right now?” If you want to take it a step further, don’t wait until that moment. Keep it top of mind every time you visit a new place. I do.

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    […] situationally aware. I wrote about the idea last year at this time. Here’s the link in case you missed […]