Gearing Up for Tornado Season 2012, Part 4: Schools

Protective position in schools. Please note heads and bodies face the wall. 

We’ll start with the safety rules for schools and I’ll make some comments after.

Every School Should Have a Plan

  • Develop a severe weather safety plan that ensures everyone will take cover within 60 seconds. Conduct frequent tornado drills including drills and provisions for all after-hours school-related activities.
  • Every school should be inspected and tornado shelter areas designated by a registered engineer or architect. Rooms with exterior walls should never be used as tornado shelters.
  • Basements offer the best protection. Schools without basements should use interior rooms and hallways on the lowest floor, away from windows or doors that lead directly outdoors.
  • Delay lunches or assemblies in large rooms if severe weather is anticipated. Rooms with large roof spans (e.g., gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums, swimming pools, theaters) offer little or no protection from tornado-strength winds.
  • Everyone should know the protective position (above) with elbows to knees and hands over the back of the head.
  • Every school should have a primary and secondary method for receiving a tornado warning with battery backup. 
  • If the school’s alarm relies on electricity, have a backup. 
  • Make provisions for those with disabilities, those in portable classrooms, and those outdoors. If all cannot be notified at once, notify them first.
  • Keep children at school beyond regular hours if a tornado warning is in effect at the time of dismissal.
  • School bus drivers should identify protective areas along each part of their route where they and their passengers can take cover if overtaken by a tornado.
  • Include properly designed tornado shelters when planning additions or new school buildings.  

The above rules are extremely well done and thought out. Hat tip to the American Red Cross and National Weather Service for creating and publishing them. Please make sure the principal at your child’s school has a copy of these.

A concern I have pertaining to schools is the growing trend, especially in the South, to dismiss schools when a tornado watch is issued or a “high risk” severe weather outlook is issued on a school day. Given that the South has the highest concentration of mobile homes, are we sending children from relatively safe schools to relatively unsafe mobile homes?

I recommend that schools give parents the option of picking up children early but also to use the school as a public shelter for students and parents after school hours in during tornado watches.

5 thoughts on “Gearing Up for Tornado Season 2012, Part 4: Schools

  1. Mike,

    Since you mentioned this subject. My son who is a senior got to tour Joplin High School some months after the devastating tornado. He told me some of the hallways where students would have been placed during a tornado were buried in debris. That is a scary thought when you consider it could have hit on a Monday afternoon, instead of Sunday evening when it did. I shudder to think the loss of life or serious injuries would have been higher if this had been a school and a normal work day. Also, some of my "friends" on Facebook do not want me to discuss weather (tornado) related subjects even if its something in a positive element such as what you mentioned in the above post.

    Thanks you for your blog, Mike. I look at it just about daily.

    Todd in Joplin

  2. Mike,

    I better clarify my previous comment in regards to Facebook. I still share weather related info on Facebook regardless who I bother on the Facebook. I should of left that Facebook part of my comment out, it was off subject anyway.


  3. Hi everyone.

    Everything posted in this series is the most up-to-date that I can attain, so much so that some of it came from NWS HQ in D.C. just last week.

    Yes, some of these things have changed, thus the need to get the newest info out.

    More there will be at least one two more postings on this subject.


  4. "Has the 'protective position' changed?"

    If it has, I'd think it's because it's easier to hold that position for a longer period — particularly on a hard tile floor as most schools have — with your "seat" and feet on the ground, than to be kneeling with your head on the ground, which would put all your weight on your knees and shins.