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Playbook: Tornado Audience: Gov er n I s s u e : S a fe t y a n m e n t d security

Playbooks for Local & State Government

BEFORE A TORNADO Develop a communication plan in advance Unlike a hurricane, tornadoes come with very little warning, making it extremely important to develop a plan in advance. Review and revise your crisis communication plan well in advance of a tornado. Determine the length of time for specific

Formal mutual aid agreements can include details regarding communications assistance.3 Sources such as amateur radio operators, the Civil Air Patrol, local hospitals and the American Red Cross may also have the capability to assist with communications during a tornado. 3

actions as detailed in the plan. Set a timeline for the order in

Establish a single point of contact

which actions need to be put into effect. Establish protocols

During and immediately after a tornado, there won’t be

to test all procedures and equipment on a regular basis.

time to determine a spokesperson. Designate an Emer-

During peak tornado season, monitor the National

gency Communications Director, who will rapidly as-

Weather Service Doppler radar network. Strategically

sess the need for communications support and identify,

located across the country, this network can detect air

acquire and deploy resources to support critical emer-

movement toward or away from the radar. By detecting

gency operations. This person should also have primary

increasing rotation aloft within a thunderstorm, potential

responsibility for communicating with the public, other

tornado conditions can be forecast, allowing warnings to

agencies, and the media.

be issued before any tornadoes form.2

Publicize the fact that this office/person will be the primary point of contact during a tornado or other emergency. Doing so in advance will enable emergency re-

effective and efficient communication strategies

sponders to focus on their work with minimal distraction.

Did you know that tornadoes . . .

During a tornado, communication networks may be dis-

• Caused over $1.1 Billion in US property damage in 20101

rupted, key officials and staff members may be unavail-

• C ause an average of 60-65 fatalities and 1,500 injuries each year

able, and resources may be in use or otherwise unable

• C  an produce wind speeds in excess of 200 mph • Can be 1 mile wide and stay on the ground over 50 miles2 What, when and how you communicate before, during and after a tornado is critical.

Develop backups & contingency plans

to assist as the tornado develops. For each communication task, assign a backup who can assume the task if the primary communicator is unable to perform it. Develop alternate means of creating documentation in the event that electronic systems are unavailable. Docu-

Coordinate with other agencies

menting emergency actions with event logs and communications traffic records will provide key information

Coordinate efforts with other officials in your region for

for post-emergency investigations or after-action re-

effective, efficient messaging. Work with other agencies,

ports. If claims for reimbursement under Presidential di-

such as local fire departments, police and sheriff’s de-

saster declarations are to be made, documentation will

partments, and Emergency Medical Services to stream-

be needed to indicate the number of people, paid and

line messages and reduce duplicate notifications.

volunteer, involved in communication efforts.4

When appropriate, coordinate with neighboring jurisdic-

Before a tornado, or at least once a year, send messages

tions to provide redundancy in communication systems.

to remind your community to develop a disaster preparedness kit and other supplies, including generators.


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during A TORNADO What to communicate Shelter-in-place orders and evacuations: If a tornado develops and you have advance warning, issue a tor-

stay away from windows. Notify those who are caught outside or in a vehicle to lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression.

nado watch and notify community members in mobile

Transportation changes: Inform your community of

homes, modular buildings or cars to evacuate to a pre-

special road conditions in advance of a tornado. Road

designated tornado shelter area.

closures, evacuation routes, altered traffic patterns, af-

For special-needs populations, including seniors and people with disabilities, it

fected lights and detours are all important to note in advance, if possible. If public transportation systems are closing, share that information as well.

is important to evacuate

Status changes: If a tornado is accompanied by other

these residents early, with

concerns, such as heavy rains or flooding, notify those

as much advance notice

in affected areas, as well as those which may become

as possible, to ensure their


safety and a smooth transition overall. Create and main-

Send status reports and updates to the community re-

tain a separate list of those with special needs.

garding shelter-in-place notices, important safety direc-

If a warning is issued or if threatening weather ap-

tions, changes to activity schedules, and utility outages.

proaches, instruct community members to go to a

Send status reports and updates to emergency re-

pre-designated shelter area, such as a safe room,

sponse teams, if prescribed by your emergency com-

basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level, and

munication plan.

Tornado Safety Rules The safest place to be is an underground shelter, basement, or safe room. If no underground shelter or safe room is available, a small, windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building is the safest alternative. Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes. Abandon mobile homes and go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter immediately. If you are caught outdoors, seek shelter in a basement, shelter or sturdy building. If you cannot quickly walk to a shelter, immediately get into a vehicle, buckle your seat belt and try to drive to the closest sturdy shelter. If flying debris occurs while you are driving, pull over and park. Now you have the following options as a last resort: XXStay

in your vehicle with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible.


you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car, and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands.


choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.

Source: Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning...Nature’s Most Violent Storms: A Preparedness Guide Including Tornado Safety Information for Schools; National Weather Service

Playbook: Tornado


When to communicate While most tornadoes occur during the summer months, they can develop at any time of day, and at any time

how tornadoes form

of the year. When weather conditions are warm, humid, and/or windy, or when threatening skies appear, use

Before thunderstorms develop, winds change direction and increase in speed with altitude. This creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere.

sources such as NOAA Weather Radio, or local television or radio to monitor for severe weather watches and warnings.2 Understand the terms used by

Rising air within the thunderstorm updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical.

the National Weather Service to describe tornado risk:

An area of rotation, 2-6 miles wide, now extends through much of the storm. Most tornadoes form within this area of strong rotation.


Watch — NWS meteorologists have determined that tornadoes are possible in your area. Remain alert for approaching storms.



Lakes, rivers, and mountains protect areas from tornadoes.

No geographic location is safe from tornadoes. A tornado near Yellowstone National Park left a path of destruction up and down a 10,000 foot mountain.

A tornado causes buildings to “explode” as the tornado passes overhead.

Violent winds and debris slamming into buildings cause the most structural damage.

Open windows before a tornado approaches to equalize pressure and minimize damage.

Virtually all buildings leak. Leave the windows closed. Take shelter immediately. An underground shelter, basement or safe room are the safest places. If none of those options are available, go to a windowless interior room or hallway.

Highway overpasses provide safe shelter from tornadoes.

The area under a highway overpass is very dangerous in a tornado. If you are in a vehicle, you should immediately seek shelter in a sturdy building. As a last resort, you can either: stay in the car with the seat belt on. Put your head down below the windows, covering with your hands and a blanket if possible, OR if you can safely get noticeably lower than the level of the roadway, exit your car and lie in that area, covering your head with your hands. Your choice should be driven by your specific circumstances.

It is safe to take shelter in the bathroom, hallway, or closet of a mobile home.

Mobile homes are not safe during tornadoes! Abandon your mobile home to seek shelter in a sturdy building immediately. If you live in a mobile home, ensure you have a plan in place that identifies the closest sturdy buildings.

Source: Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning...Nature’s Most Violent Storms: A Preparedness Guide Including Tornado Safety Information for Schools; National Weather Service


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Warning — NWS meteorologists have determined that a tornado is occurring, or likely to occur within minutes, in the specified area. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property.2

Tornadoes can develop so quickly that issuing advance warnings is impossible. Monitor the skies for signs of an impending tornado, including a loud freight train-like roar, a dark or greenish sky, or large hail.2

How to communicate Set up a point of contact for individuals to speak with about specific questions or concerns. Use a public social network, like Facebook or Twitter, to share infor-

(text messaging). Such messages can be widely delivered to the general public, or can be tailored for and distributed to specific audiences. Use templates developed in advance which allow for details to be added quickly, saving time when a tornado occurs.

mation publicly and address common questions in one

Maintain a complete and up-to-date list of media con-

place. A mass notification service can enable you to

tacts to ensure all media receive information and up-

distribute messages rapidly by phone, email, or SMS

dates throughout a tornado.

Tornado Facts XXAlthough

tornadoes occur in many parts of the world, they are found most frequently in the United States. In an average year, 1,200 tornadoes cause 60-65 fatalities and 1,500 injuries nationwide.


tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a cumuliform cloud, such as a thunderstorm, to the ground.


may appear nearly transparent until dust and debris are picked up or a cloud forms within the funnel. The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes can move in any direction and can suddenly change their direction of motion.


average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.


strongest tornadoes have rotating winds of more than 200 mph.


can accompany tropical storms and hurricanes as they move onto land.


are tornadoes that form over warm water. Water spouts can move onshore and cause damage to coastal areas.

Source: Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning...Nature’s Most Violent Storms: A Preparedness Guide Including Tornado Safety Information for Schools; National Weather Service

Playbook: Tornado


after A TORNADO Declaring an end to the crisis

The Enhanced Fujita Scale

Once the tornado has passed, issue all-clear messag-

The National Weather Service (NWS) uses the EF-Scale to assign a tornado a ‘rating’ based on estimated wind speeds and related damage.

es, announce curfews or issue boil-water notices. Distribute these announcements as widely as possible in order to preempt calls, allowing emergency manage-

EF–Scale EF Rating

3 Second Wind Gust (mph)







Recovery efforts





After a tornado, let your community know about


Over 200

ment staff to stay on task. If the roads are impassable, you can warn citizens, students, parents and staff to stay off the road until it is safe.

downed trees, utility service restoration and debris removal. Share insurance claim contact information and

Weak Tornadoes

announce recovery assistance programs and work-


of all tornadoes

shops. If your community is eligible for FEMA assis-


than 5% of tornado deaths

tance, let residents know about the application process.


Recruit and coordinate volunteers, organize commu-


1 – 10+ minutes

less than 110 mph

nity clean-up events, and collect supply donations.


Let your community know where they can get items,

Strong Tornadoes

such as a three-day supply of water and food, firstaid kit, battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio, batteries and fuel. Protect your community from con artists and price gouging in the wake of tornadoes. If scammers or


EF0 or EF1 damage

of all tornadoes

XXNearly XXMay

30% of all tornado deaths

last 20 minutes or longer


111-165 mph


EF2 or EF3 damage

criminal activities become evident, issue community alerts to raise awareness among citizens.

Violent Tornadoes XXLess

than 1% of all tornadoes


of all tornado deaths

word-of-mouth. Disseminate accurate information


exceed 1 hour

to your community about the tornado and recovery


During critical events, such as a tornado, misinformation can quickly spread, both in the media and via

efforts to provide reassurance. Send up-to-date information and alerts to local media outlets, through

greater than 166 mph


EF4 or EF5


known spokespersons, and using an established and trusted method, to deter gossip and misinformation.


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Source: Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning...Nature’s Most Violent Storms: A Preparedness Guide Including Tornado Safety Information for Schools; National Weather Service

Recap of actions taken Invite community residents, students, and staff mem-

Email can also be used to share the meeting agenda and various subjects to be discussed.

bers to public meetings and encourage participation

Reach out to key reporters in the area and let them

in discussions of the tornado’s effect on the county or

know how officials have been providing direction and

local communities. Be sure to announce the time, date

updates to the community, what kinds of messages

and location of such meetings. Provide as much ad-

have been sent and that more information will follow,

vance notice as possible, and send regular reminders.

including when it will be safe to return (if evacuated).

BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER CHECKLIST Keys to successful communication if a tornado strikes:

Before Review and revise your crisis communication plan well in advance of a tornado. Build alliances with other agencies and municipalities Designate a single point of contact for all communications Develop/maintain an up-to-date media list

During Issue a tornado watch when appropriate, including evacuation and other instructions Issue updates and status reports as appropriate Use a mass notification service to deliver important messages quickly

After Distribute announcements widely and quickly to: Preempt calls and allow recovery efforts to continue unimpeded Minimize misinformation and rumors Alert citizens about available assistance and relief efforts Recruit volunteers to assist with recovery efforts Update local media about response and recovery

Playbook: Tornado


references Bibliography National Weather Service Tornado FAQ A quick-reference summary of tornado knowledge, with links to further information. Provided by the NWS Storm Prediction Center. Thunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning...Nature’s Most Violent Storms A tornado preparedness guide, issued by the National Weather Service. NOAA Weather Radio Home page of the nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. Annual Severe Weather Report Summary – 2010 Annual summary of severe weather compiled by the NWS Storm Prediction Center.

Works Cited 1. Summary of Natural Hazard Statistics for 2010 in the United States; National Weather Service. 2. T  hunderstorms, Tornadoes, Lightning...Nature’s Most Violent Storms: A Preparedness Guide Including Tornado Safety Information for Schools; National Weather Service. 3. O  utagamie County (WI) Response Plan 2010: Emergency Support Function #2 - Communications and Warning. 2010.pdf 4. B  utler County, Kansas Emergency Operations Plan: ESF2-Communications.


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Effective Use of Various Communication Methods during a Severe Convective Outbreak National Weather Service paper describing measures and actions taken by the Amarillo, TX NWS Forecast Office on a day which saw 26 tornadoes affect the region. The Enhanced Fujita Scale Information about the scale used to rate the intensity of tornadoes. FEMA: Tornado Tornado information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Seal Beach Case Study Learn how Seal Beach, CA used Blackboard Connect to keep residents safe during tornadoes and floods.

about Why a Playbook? When a natural disaster or other urgent event develops, there isn’t much time to plan how your city or county will react, and even less time to communicate these actions to a concerned public. The Blackboard Connect™ Playbooks for Local and State Government series provides you with a blueprint for how to communicate with constituents before, during, and after such events.

Blackboard Connect for Government Blackboard Connect has been the go-to mass notification service provider for local communities and has proven its reliability time and again during tornadoes and severe storms. With Weather Alerts from Blackboard Connect, Emergency Management Personnel can send severe-weather notifications from the National Weather Service/ NOAA directly to citizens. Messages can be sent automatically to all constituents, or targeted to reach predefined groups, via phone, email or SMS, providing you with quicker message delivery and increased public safety. The Blackboard Connect platform allows officials to send thousands of messages in minutes, requires no additional hardware, and can be used from any computer with Internet access or telephone. This ensures that administrators can send vital messages from wherever they are located—even if they are evacuated. Additionally, officials receive detailed reports on contacts that did not receive a message, enabling them to follow up through alternative means as needed. Ask your Blackboard representative about additional Playbooks, containing communication strategies and information to use when responding to other types of emergencies. • 650 Massachusetts Avenue, NW 6th Floor Washington, DC 20001 • 1.800.424.9299, ext. 4 Copyright © 1997-2011. Blackboard Inc. All rights reserved. Blackboard, the Blackboard logo, BbWorld, Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Transact, Blackboard Connect, Blackboard Mobile, Blackboard Collaborate, the Blackboard Outcomes System, Behind the Blackboard, and Connect-ED are trademarks or registered trademarks of Blackboard Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States and/or other countries. Blackboard products may be covered by one or more of the following U.S. patents: 7,493,396, 7,558,853, 7,816,878.

Playbook: Tornado


Playbook: Tornado  

Playbooks for Local and State Government

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