A tornado touched down in the Tulsa, OK, area in the early hours of Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado, which was spawned by a powerful storm system that rolled through the state, caused damage to structures, uprooting trees and toppling power lines in the suburb of Sapulpa and surrounding areas. It came shortly after a deadly tornado, about 25 miles west of Oklahoma City in El Reno, which killed two people and injured 29 others.
While the majority of tornadoes occur in the so-called ‘Tornado Alley’ – a stretch of states extending from northern Texas, through Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, into South Dakota and up into Canada – every US state has some exposure to tornadoes. If the conditions are right, they can cause massive destruction anywhere at any time, which is why it’s essential that businesses know how to prepare and understand what warning signs to look out for when a tornado may be approaching.
The challenge with tornadoes compared to other weather-related catastrophes like hurricanes is that the warning or lead time is often extremely low. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the current average lead time for tornado warnings in the US is 13 minutes. That’s not enough time for businesses to come up with tried and tested disaster plans that will keep their employees safe.
It’s too late to start thinking about a tornado plan when a warning is issued, explained Jim Gustin, property technical director at Travelers. To help insureds with their preparation, the risk control team at Travelers provides a seven-point, pre-emergency plan, detailing best practices around: shelter, supplies, separation, safety, personnel / visitors, drills, and inventory.
“Shelter is all about designating a safe place in your facility or your home so that when a tornado warning is issued, everybody knows the safest place to go,” Gustin told Insurance Business. “That safe space could be a facility basement, or if there’s no basement, it could be an interior room with no windows. Basically, you want to find somewhere that’s going to put the most walls between you and the outside. It’s also important for insureds to identify clear paths for everybody to get to the shelter.
“As well as identifying a safe place for people to congregate if there’s a warning, it’s also a good idea for insureds to put together a disaster survival kit. It’s great to have things like a whistle to be able to alert people if they’re trapped under debris, a flashlight to guide people or find people, extra batteries, a portable radio, an emergency cell phone, and things like that. Insureds should also have communication plans in place so that they can keep in touch with employees and family members should a tornado strike.”
If an employee is not where they’re expected to be when a tornado strikes, insureds need to have a way of communicating with them (whether directly or through emergency contacts) to try and find out where they are. Likewise, they need to keep a record of who is in their facility at any one time so that, in the event that they have to do a headcount after an event, they can ensure that everybody’s there and everybody’s safe.
In a similar fashion, insureds should keep an updated log of their inventory. If a tornado strikes and structures are damaged, a full list of items and what needs to be fixed or replaced will make the claims process much smoother.
“Safety is another key point. When people go to a shelter, they should be advised to crouch down, cover their heads, and potentially get under the cover of a desk or another solid object to protect themselves from any falling debris,” Gustin added. “Insureds need to conduct drills so that everybody knows what they’re supposed to do, where they’re supposed to go, how they need to behave and what items they need to have with them. Practicing these plans is essential so that the emergency plan can be executed properly during an event.”