Severe Weather Awareness Week is April 17-21, but Minnesotans have already seen tornadoes and severe thunderstorms this year. That’s why it’s crucial for people with disabilities to be prepared well before thunderstorms roll in or a tornado siren sounds. Have a plan and be ready.
Pay attention to weather and know what terms mean. A severe thunderstorm or tornado “watch” means that conditions are favorable for development of bad weather. Watches are typically issued up to six hours before a severe storm could hit. Be alert and be prepare during a weather watch.
A severe thunderstorm or tornado “warning” means that severe weather has been seen by spotters or law enforcement, or detected on radar. Warnings can be issued up to an hour before a storm hits, or only a few minutes in advance. Take immediate action when a weather warning is issued and seek shelter.
A severe thunderstorm is one with winds of 58 mph or stronger, and/or hail one inch or larger in diameter.
When thunder rolls, lightning is near and it’s time to head indoors. Lightning can strike up to 25 miles away from a thunderstorm cloud. Seek shelter in a larger, permanent building, a fully enclosed metal vehicle or the lowest area in the vicinity. Avoid being near tall objects such a trees and poles, open shelters, wet areas, elevated areas, large open areas and anything metal such as a golf cart, fence, machinery and power lines. Metal on wheelchairs, scooters or walkers can put people at risk.
When a tornado warning is issued, head to the lowest point in a building. If there is no accessible basement, a bathroom can provide safety. A room without windows is best.
One good investment is a NOAA weather radio, to hear weather forecasts, watches, warnings and other information. Many stores sell NOAA weather radios. Many models of radio have screens that show information, as well as audio broadcasts. Another option is to set up a cell phone app to get weather information.
All outdoor emergency sirens sound at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month, as a test. Sirens also sound during weather awareness week. If outdoor emergency sirens sound at other times, go inside and seek weather information on television, radio or online on the National Weather Service website. Don’t go back outside or stand by a window to watch or record the storm.
Different communities have different guidelines for when sirens sound, so take time to learn those. Sirens may sound for a few minutes and then turn off. The end of a siren’s sound doesn’t mean a weather emergency is over. Listen to hear if sirens go back on.
Sirens are meant to be warnings for people who are outdoors and aren’t meant to be heard indoors. Cities and counties don’t sound “all clear” sirens.
Minnesota State Council on Disabilities (MSCOD) has comprehensive information available on emergency preparedness, with information for homes and workplaces.
MSCOD offers training programs for emergency preparedness and management planners, first responders, employers, community leaders, lawmakers and persons with disabilities. The council hosts workshops and distributes materials. MSCOD has worked with many partner to develop public policy standards for local and municipal emergency management plans that include a disability-focused approach.
MSCOD has a four-page emergency plan where people can write down a disability or disabilities, needed medication and schedules, medical and emergency contacts, and other information needed to prepare for a disaster. Another suggestion is to make a “Go” bag with first aid, medication, special items for daily living, extra glasses or contacts water, food, can opener, radio, flashlight, batteries, whistle, candles, matches or a lighter, personal care items, extra clothing, rain gear and sturdy shoes. Prepare a copy of the plan and other documents and put them in a waterproof pouch or container.
-Information from MSCOD, Federal Emergency Management Agency and City of St. Paul was
used for this article.