A tornado is a violent and destructive force that can be both deadly and terrifying to the people in its path. Tornadoes have been reported in every state in the United States and are common in the plains states. Taking steps to prepare yourself for the event of a tornado can save your life and the life of your family. There are no guarantees in any natural disaster, but being prepared for the worst can vastly improve the chance of survival.

Before a Tornado

The best time to prepare for any natural disaster is long before it occurs. To prepare for a possible tornado, begin by building a proper emergency kit and stockpile of supplies. Be sure to include in your emergency kit water, food, first aid supplies, an emergency radio that includes an NOAA weather band, extra clothing, lighters, flashlights with extra batteries, etc. Keep your emergency kit in a bag that you can take with you and have enough supplies to last you for at least 72 hours.

There are many excellent books about putting together a 72-hour kit. One excellent book is Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag: Your 72-Hour Disaster Survival Kit by Creek Stewart. Another great book about disaster preparedness is When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Survive When Disaster Strikes by Cody Lundin.

Even when you have an emergency kit, it is important to stay aware of dangerous weather conditions in your area. Keep an eye out for approaching storms, and keep track of the weather forecasts. Some of the danger signs that a tornado could be imminent are a dark (possibly greenish) sky, a dark low-lying cloud, rotating clouds, a loud roar that sounds like a train, or large hail. If you see any of these signs or see approaching storms, be ready to take cover.

Also, be aware of tornado seasons in your area. East of the Rocky Mountains tornadoes are most common during the spring and summer.

Know the tornado warning system in your community, as not every community has the same methods of warning residents. Many communities employ warning sirens to inform residents of tornadoes. Also, know where to locate local shelters and safe places to take cover.

Practice using your emergency supplies and hold regular tornado drills. It will be much easier for you and your family to act correctly during in emergency if you have had practice. Hold drills both during the day and during the night, and during different seasons. Practicing and improving your plan before a tornado strikes can save your life.

During a Tornado

You've prepared all that you can, and you find yourself face to face with a deadly tornado that is headed your way. The actions that you take to protect yourself and your family can save your life.

If you are in a structure such as a residence, a school, office building, shopping center, etc. make your way to a pre-designated shelter area. Generally you will want to make your way to the lowest level on the building and find an interior room. If you are in an area frequented by tornadoes, many buildings and residences have tornado shelters or storm cellars that can provide life-saving shelter. While in any building, stay away from windows, outside walls, and doors. Try to place as many walls as possible between you and the outside of the building.

If you find yourself outside without any kind of cover or shelter, try to find cover as quickly as possible. Immediately enter a vehicle, buckle the seat belt, and attempt to drive to the nearest shelter area. However, if the vehicle is struck by flying debris while you are driving, you should pull over and park the vehicle. Do not exit the vehicle, and keep the seat belt fastened. Duck your head beneath the windows and cover your head with your hands and with any item you can find that can shield you from debris and glass (a blanket, jacket, etc.).

If you can safely get to a location that is lower than the roadway itself, it is best to leave the car and lie down in the low area. Cover your head with your hands.

Do not take shelter underneath a bridge or an overpass, as it is safer to take cover in a low, flat area than under these structures.

If you are in your car, but are stuck in traffic or a congested area, do not attempt to outrun the tornado. You should instead leave the vehicle and  take shelter.

It is typically flying objects and debris that cause the most injury and death. Be mindful of flying debris.

Stay in your shelter until the tornado has subsided and the danger has passed.

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After a Tornado

Once the immediate danger has passed, cautiously exit your shelter and evaluate the situation. Many injuries from tornadoes take place after the tornado is gone and individuals are walking on and near debris and entering damaged structures. Be mindful of exposed nails and damaged power and gas lines.

Check yourself and those with you for injuries and promptly treat any injuries. Do not attempt to move seriously injured individuals unless their life is in immediate danger. Seek medical assistance immediately. Apply pressure to bleeding injuries. Puncture wounds are common from flying debris and even from falling or stepping on debris (e.g. stepping on an exposed nail). Have a physician examine all puncture wounds, as they are particularly susceptible to infection. If a person stops breathing, begin CPR is you are properly trained to do so.

There is a risk of electrocution from downed and damaged power lines. Do not approach any downed lines, and stay far away from any water or area that a power line is touching. Do not touch any objects that are in contact with downed power lines. Report all downed and damaged power lines to the police or fire department and to the utility company as soon as possible.

Be aware of fires and damaged natural gas lines that could ignite causing a fire or explosion.

Take care when entering any damaged structures. Be aware of potential damage to the structure of your home, to the electrical system, and to the gas lines. Contact local officials and building inspectors for information on safety codes and damage. If you suspect that electrical lines or gas lines have been damaged, turn off the electricity at the breaker or fuse box and turn off the natural gas at the meter. When inspecting a home in the dark, use a flashlight rather than a candle or something else that could ignite leaking natural gas.

Turn on the radio and listen for news and instructions from emergency personnel. Use your emergency supplies and your practiced skills to keep safe while you wait for assistance and help those around you. While cleaning up, be sure to wear sturdy boots or shoes, gloves, and long sleeves.