Tornadoes are fearsome because of their unpredictable nature. Although there are certain weather conditions that make tornadoes more likely, such as severe summer thunderstorms, tornadoes can actually be created by snowstorms and blizzards. They can strike at any time of year and almost any place, even forming on the water and moving onto land.
Although the Midwest is known for tornadic activity – the infamous Tornado Alley is in the southern plains of the central United States – the southern U.S., including Georgia, gets its share of severe weather systems, and that means tornadoes. As of early April 2017, Georgia had the most confirmed tornadoes of any state in the United States, with 55 confirmed tornadoes. By late May 2017, a new state record was set, with the final count for the year at 131 confirmed tornadoes. For the 20 years prior, Georgia averaged only 30 tornadoes each year! In 2018, one night in March saw at least four tornadoes strike Georgia, causing more than $10 million in damage.
Tornadoes come fast – there’s often little warning, so preparing ahead of time is critical. If your residents don’t know what to and where to take shelter, they could be seriously injured. There’s little you can do protect property in the face of a tornado, so the focus should be on teaching your residents what to look for and how to protect themselves.
The good news is that there are things that a community association can do to help protect both the community and its residents. Read on for things you need to know and steps you can take in advance of a tornado touching down.
1. Keep community contact information current – and printed out.
Make sure that you regularly update the latest ways to reach community members in a hurry. When it comes to tornadoes, you may have only a few minutes – or even seconds – to take cover and it’s important to be able to reach people fast, preferably through text. A system like FirstService Residential Connect can allow the board or management staff to send mass messages alerting residents of severe weather watches and warnings. But no system will be effective if you don’t have current contact information for everyone in the community. In the event of a power failure, having a hard copy of that resident contact information and other important community information like insurance policy numbers and agent phone numbers, contacts for the electric company and local emergency management information will be valuable.
2. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
That’s advice from Eric Love, senior associate manager at the Viewpoint in Alpharetta. “We include information about emergency response in every quarterly newsletter. We publish a handbook each year, and there’s emergency information in that, and we also print a dedicated guide for emergency planning and responses, and every resident gets a copy,” Love said. “We created a community awareness committee to help with the constant communication and education that is required. A weekly reminder is easier for more people to handle than a 40-page binder, which can seem daunting.”
3. Educate your community about tornado conditions.
Inform your community of what tornado conditions look like and when they need to take action. Distribute the information regularly as part of your general emergency planning information, and reiterate it during the spring and late summer thunderstorm season – both are prime time for tornadoes to form.
A tornado can also form without a thunderstorm. Dark or green-colored skies (almost a bruised look), a low-flying cloud that is large and dark or big chunks of hail coming down could mean that a tornado is approaching. Tornadoes often come with noise that sounds like a freight train rumbling by. Make sure your community knows that all of these signs mean they need to take shelter immediately and be prepared to either go underground or into an interior room without windows. Of course, seeing an actual funnel cloud is the sign to take cover immediately.
4. Understand basic weather terminology.
When tornadoes and other dangerous storms arise, you need to understand standard weather terms used by governmental agencies and the media to describe what is going on. It’s harder to communicate to your residents if you are unsure about what is being said. A “severe thunderstorm watch” means a severe thunderstorm is possible near your location, while a “severe thunderstorm warning” means that radar has indicated that a storm is producing (or will produce) high winds and other conditions capable of causing significant damage – and that includes tornadoes. Similarly, a tornado watch means that conditions favor the formation of tornadoes, while a tornado warning indicates that a funnel cloud has been sighted or tracked on radar.
5. Enlist the help of your local emergency management professionals.
Most local governments, at the county if not city level, have dedicated teams of emergency management professionals. These people know the terrain, they understand bad weather systems and they are experts in helping you plan and prepare for them. They can give advice on things like emergency preparation, evacuation routes, supplies you should have on hand and more. The Centers for Disease Control, American Red Cross, the Department of Homeland Security and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) all provide valuable information online as well.
As board members, you want to protect your community. Emergency planning and effective communication are critical to that, no matter the situation. For tornadoes, it’s important that these plans are in place well ahead of tornadic conditions forming. Having the right plans in place will minimize the risk to your residents and your community association’s property.