Tornadoes can be terrifying because of their unpredictable nature. Although there are certain weather conditions that make tornadoes more likely, such as severe summer thunderstorms, tornadoes can also 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, including tornadoes. Georgia has recorded 15 tornadoes so far in 2022. In 2021, they were among the top states for tornadoes, outpacing several in Tornado Alley. In 2018, one night in March saw at least four tornadoes strike Georgia, causing more than $10 million in damage. The year prior, in 2017, Georgia had set a new state record with almost 150 tornadoes.

Tornadoes come fast – there’s often little warning, so preparing ahead of time is critical. If your residents don’t know what to do and where to take shelter, they could be seriously injured. There’s little you can do to 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 a good property management company should support the association 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 allows the board or management staff to send mass messages alerting residents of severe weather watches and warnings. But no system can 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 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, regional director at FirstService Residential. “The communities I work with include information about emergency response in every quarterly newsletter. They publish a handbook each year, with emergency information, and they also print a dedicated guide for emergency planning and responses, and every resident gets a copy,” Love said. “Some communities create a community awareness committee to help with the consistent 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.”

If your association keeps an emergency phone on hand, most likely a cell phone, to contact residents in the event of an emergency, make sure it’s properly charged as power loss during a tornado can occur.

3. Educate your community about tornado conditions and emergency procedures.

Your property management company should 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 times 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 go either underground or into an interior room without windows. Of course, seeing an actual funnel cloud is the sign to take cover immediately.

Many associations include general emergency information and procedures in their governing docs and then share that information regularly throughout the year. This ensures that residents are informed and know what to do should an emergency, like a tornado, strike.

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.

The right management company will work with emergency management professionals from local governments, at the county if not city level, to assist with preparation and recovery efforts. They can give advice on things like emergency preparation, evacuation routes, supplies you should have on hand and more. These people know the local terrain, they understand bad weather systems that are common in your area and they are experts in helping you plan and prepare for it. They will provide helpful advice on emergency preparation, evacuation routes, emergency supplies to stock 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.

For more information about how a professional property management company can help your community weather this storm season, contact FirstService Residential.

Monday April 18, 2022