Tornado Safety at School

Leave auditoriums, gyms, and other wide-span, long span, clear-span, free-span rooms
Example of a wide span building
exiting in an orderly fashion. Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor, but avoid halls that open to the outside in any direction. If there are no interior hallways, avoid those that open to the southwest, south, or west, since that is the usually the direction the tornado will come. Locker rooms near the gym are often a safe place. Stay away from glass, both in windows and doors. Crouch down, and make as small a “target” as possible. If you have something to cover your head, do so, otherwise, use your hands. Don't assume that there will always be a teacher or other adult there to tell you what to do — if there is, you should follow their direction, but you need to know these things too.

Henryville, Indiana experienced a devastating tornado on March 2, 2012. The gym at the Junion-Senior High School was destroyed. Security cameras within the gym (and elsewhere in the buildings) captured the sequence of events.

Peak time for tornadoes to strike varies from region to region. In some southeastern states, early morning tornadoes are almost as common as late afternoon ones. In western and northern states, peak hours are from 3 to 7 PM, just at the end of the school, but including the hours of afterschool activities.

The photo below shows students taking cover in a school hallway. Note that although there is a door with windows at the end of the hall, it appears to lead to a stairwell or entrance hallway, not directly to the outside. The students are covering their heads with their hands and making themselves as small a target as possible to flying debris that might be blown into the hall.

Also notice the blur caused by the teacher’s foot as she ran down the hall. She was running because this was not a drill! This photograph was taken during a real tornado emergency. The teachers and students reacted quickly and correctly. Not a one was injured.

No matter how boring and useless it sometimes seems to run tornado or fire drills in a school, it may make the difference between living and dying. The less you have to think about the correct course of action, the more automatic the reaction, the less you are likely to panic and make a poor decision about what to do and where to go.

Remember, stay away from long span roofs, such as in a gym, an auditorium, or a cafeteria. Stay away from free span walls. They can both collapse, crushing anyone underneath. And stay away from glass — glass kills and maims in a tornado.

If really severe weather is expected, your school may be dismissed early in order that you can reach home before the worst of the weather reaches the area.

If you are on foot or riding a bike, it is doubly important that you go home immediately, and not linger with your friends. If caught in the open, you should seek a safe place immediately. The chances of encountering falling trees, power lines, and lightning is greater than encountering the tornado itself. Try to find a safe building to shelter in. If you are really out in the open, lying flat in a ditch or low-lying area may be the only thing available. A culvert in a ditch MAY be a good choice if there is no rain, but if there IS rain, flash flooding may be more dangerous and likely than the tornado.

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