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Natl. Weather Service, Red Cross address the public safety


To the Editor:

The National Weather Service and the American Red Cross share a common goal of protecting lives through public education. Regarding tornado safety, we both agree that the best options are to go to an underground shelter, basement or safe room. We've been giving this advice for decades, and it is recognized as the most effective way to stay safe in a tornado.

The National Weather Service and Red Cross also agree on the critical importance of preparedness and quick action when conditions are right for tornadoes to develop like during a severe thunderstorm warning or tornado watch. When a tornado warning is issued, immediate action is required. Preparedness begins by identifying a safe location in advance of any severe weather and having a way to get weather alerts wherever you are, such as from a NOAA weather radio. When a watch or warning is broadcast, people should already have a plan on what to do and where to go, and they should take action immediately and never wait until they actually see a tornado.

The National Weather Service and the Red Cross continue to agree that if no underground shelter or safe room is available, the safest alternative is a small windowless interior room or hallway on the lowest level of a sturdy building, such as an interior bathroom. We also recommend that residents of mobile homes go to the nearest sturdy building or shelter if a tornado threatens.

The American Red Cross recently revised its public safety statement about what to do if a person is caught outdoors during a tornado. The National Weather Service is evaluating the Red Cross's revised statement.

The Red Cross's revised statement indicates that when no shelter is available:

*Get into a vehicle, buckle the seat belt and drive at right angles or perpendicular to the storm movement to get out of the path.

*If strong winds and flying debris occur while driving, pull over and park, keeping seat belts on and the engine running. Occupants put their heads down below the windows, covering with hands and a blanket if possible.

The National Weather Service guidance has not changed. The agency continues to recommend that:

*In a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.

*If an underground shelter is not available, move to a small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.

*Stay away from windows.

*Get out of automobiles.

*Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately for safe shelter.

*If caught outside or in a vehicle, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.

*Be aware of flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

*Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes. You should leave a mobile home and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy nearby building or a storm shelter.

If you find yourself outside or in a car with a tornado approaching and you are unable to get to a safe shelter, you are at risk from a number of things outside your control, such as the strength and path of the tornado and debris from your surroundings. This is the case whether you stay in your car or seek shelter in a ditch, both of which are considered last resort options that provide little protection.

That's why the National Weather Service and Red Cross are in complete agreement on the critical importance of getting to safe shelter when a tornado threatens. The safest place to be is in an underground shelter, basement or safe room.

Susan Buchanan, Public Affairs, National Weather Service
May 27, 2009

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