Planning Ahead for a Twister

April 15, 2016

Tornado: When the Storm Comes (Video)

America's PrepareAthon! Tornado Video

When a funnel cloud forms, how prepared are you? Do you have a safe place to go?


Watch America’s PrepareAthon!’s newest short animated video on tornado preparedness showing what you need to do to prepare for a tornado. Then, share it with your friends and visit for more tornado preparedness information and resources

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Preparing for a Tornado

America's PrepareAthon! Tornado Image

To ensure that you’re able to act quickly and get the best available protection during a tornado, you need to plan ahead. Advanced planning and practicing specifically how and where you will take cover for protection may save your life.

Your primary goal is to go to the safest place for protection before the tornado approaches and take additional measures for personal cover. If a tornado warning is issued, immediately move to the best available protection.

Having advance notice that a tornado is approaching your area can give you the critical time needed to move to a place with better protection. The best protection in all tornadoes is to seek shelter in a structure built to FEMA safe room or International Code 500 storm shelter standards.

If you’re unable to get to a safe room during a tornado, move to an interior windowless room on the lowest level of a building, preferably the basement. Take personal cover under sturdy furniture such as a table. Cover your head and neck with your arms and place a blanket or coat over your body.

The America’s PrepareAthon! How to Prepare for a Tornado guide provides preparedness tips if you live, work, or travel through an area that is susceptible to tornadoes:

  • Know how to stay informed, including monitoring weather reports provided by your local media;
  • Consider buying a National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio All Hazards receiver, which receives broadcast alerts directly from the National Weather Service and offers warnings, watches, forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week;
  • Download the FEMA mobile application for disaster resources, weather alerts, and safety tips;
  • Know where you would go to have the best level of protection from a tornado for every place you spend a lot of time, such as home, work, school, or place of worship;
  • Practice how you will communicate with your family members in case you're not together during a tornado; complete the Family Emergency Communication Plan;
  • Store at least a 3-day supply of food, water, medications, and items you may need after the tornado passes; and
  • Store the important documents on a USB flash drive or in a waterproof container that you will need to start your recovery.

Some locations don't provide protection from tornadoes, including: manufactured (mobile) homes/offices, the open space of open-plan buildings (e.g., malls, big retail stores, and gymnasiums), vehicles, and the outdoors. An alternative shelter should be identified prior to a tornado watch or warning.

You can find additional resources online, including a tornado checklist that provides guidance on what steps to take before and after a tornado. 

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Protecting Your Food During an Outage

If your power goes out, knowing what to do with the food in your refrigerator and freezer can help you to stay healthy.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends you take three steps to keep your food safe during a power outage:

  • Make sure you have appliance thermometers in the refrigerator and freezer;
  • Know where you can get dry ice or block ice; and
  • Keep a few days worth of ready-to-eat foods that don't require cooking or cooling, such as canned goods.

If you do experience a power outage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that you keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed. In addition, consider:

  • Transferring your food to a cooler and fill it with ice or frozen gel packs if your power is off longer than four hours;
  • Keeping your freezer fully stocked, as a packed freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full); and
  • Placing food in the back of the freezer. Food items in the front, in the door, or in small packaging will defrost faster.

Refer to  the USDA’s Refrigerated Food and Power Outages: When to Save and When to Throw Out for food safety during a power outage, including what items you may need to throw away because of a prolonged outage. 

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Know Your Wireless Emergency Alerts

Alerts received at the right time can help keep you and your family safe during an emergency.

During an approaching natural disaster, the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) will send a signal to your mobile phone, alerting you of an emergency. Your phone will vibrate and make a loud noise to indicate the emergency. WEA look like text messages, but are designed to get your attention and alert you with a unique sound and vibration, both repeated twice.

With WEA, you don’t need to download an application or subscribe to a service. Check with your service provider to find out if WEA are enabled on your device. Mobile users are not charged for receiving WEA and there is no need to subscribe. View the WEA public service announcement.

There are three types of alerts systems that are sent to your phone during an emergency or official public announcement:

  • Extreme weather and other threatening emergencies in your area;
  • AMBER alerts; and
  • Presidential alerts during a national emergency.

In cases of a weather emergency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio All Hazards offers warnings, watches, forecasts, and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Many local jurisdictions also offer emergency alerts. You can find if your town, city, county, or state has an emergency alert system by performing an Internet search. Simply enter “alert” and the name of your area into a web browser.

The National Weather Service offers more information on WEA, including what kinds of weather emergencies prompt a notification. In addition, FEMA developed answers for frequently asked questions on WEA. 

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Finding Shelter After a Disaster

Emergencies can abruptly change your living and sleeping situation.

You may be in need of temporary living quarters. To find a local shelter near you, text SHELTER and your zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) on your mobile phone.

The American Red Cross and other voluntary, faith-based, and community-based organizations provide inclusive shelters in cases of emergency evacuations.

The shelters are free of charge and provide meals, essential relief supplies, emotional support, and health services like first aid. When planning for possible evacuation, also:  

  • Create a pet emergency plan, as many public emergency shelters don't permit pets in their facilities for health and space reasons. However, shelters are required by law to accept service animals.
  • Have an emergency supply kit with essential items for each member of your family with or without disabilities and your pets or service animal that can be ready to go if you need to leave home and seek refuge in a shelter.
  • Plan ahead for transportation that you may need for evacuation. Work with local services, public transportation, or paratransit to identify local or private accessible transportation options.

For information on emergency immediate needs – including shelter – check the Disaster Assistance Improvement Program’s website. You can also find more information about emergency preparedness, including evacuation, for people with disabilities. 

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Vote for Preparedness

Cast your ballot!

The entries are in for the My Preparedness Story: Staying Healthy and Resilient Video Challenge and now it’s your time to choose which one you think is the best.

More than 75 students answered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services challenge by making their own short 60 second video, showing how they help protect their community’s health during an emergency and every day.

You can view all the entries on your mobile device or computer. Vote for your favorite story by clicking on the stars below the orange icon on each entry. The more stars you select, the higher the score.

The top prize winner will receive a $2,000 reward. The video may be used to inspire others to take actions to prepare themselves and their communities for emergencies.

Don't delay!  Cast your ballot by April 22, 2016!

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Dates for Your Calendar

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Disclaimer: The reader recognizes that the federal government provides links and informational data on various disaster preparedness resources and events and does not endorse any non-federal events, entities, organizations, services or products. Please let us know about other events and services for individual and community preparedness that could be included in future newsletters by contacting