Dallas Tornadoes: Do You Have a Disaster Plan?

We were not prepared. Were you?

We were not prepared. Were you?

I’ve got a confession to make: I’ve covered at least a dozen tornadoes in my career, and yet, as
my family and I huddled in the small hallway in the center of our home Saturday night fearfully watching the weather on my iPad, I realized how woefully unprepared we were for a disaster.

I mean, sure, we had the basics down. Shelter. I had my wallet with insurance information, ID, credit cards, etc. We had something to monitor the weather with (our phones and iPad). But sitting on the couch later, anxiously watching the news with my heart in my throat, I realized how many things we missed. The dog was not on a leash. The bike helmets were MIA. The medication I take daily was sitting on the counter in the bathroom. We weren’t even wearing shoes. True, part of that was due to the fact that I could tell only the outer edges of the cell were touching our neighborhood, but later I found that others who thought the same thing were now cleaning up their homes after a tornado hit (in Sunnyvale) just a couple hundred feet from their neighborhood.

What in the hell was I thinking?

So this morning, I decided to talk to an expert, do some research, and make sure my family – and yours – is prepared for the worst.

The first site I hit? The Red Cross, who recommends that well before a tornado strikes, you should practice tornado drills with your family (just like fire drills – you do those, too, right?). Pick an interior room with no windows if you can, and well before tornado season, you could also consider safe rooms (like Candy mentioned), or reinforcing a room per FEMA’s advice. The Red Cross website also links to an app that can help you find shelter and information during and after a disaster.

The Red Cross also recommends making sure tree limbs are trimmed well before tornado season (in Texas, we really have two – Spring and Fall). NOAA gave a fantastic list of ways to survive a tornado, including things like making sure you put on long sleeves and pants (as well as real shoes – no flip flops!), wearing bike helmets, and even keeping your baby in his or her infant seat and your child in a car seat for a better chance of protection.

But the best information came from a local source – the City of Dallas Office of Emergency Management website. This website is chock full of information on preparing your own disaster kit, how to plan for disaster if you have infants, children, seniors and/or pets, and how to make sure you’ve set up a network in advance to let friends and family know you’re safe after a disaster.

What should be in an emergency kit? What does it look like? The city has a great infographic with everything you should put in a duffel bag or suitcase and ready to go at any time (I think my grandma called these Bug Out Bags). Included in the list is enough water (a gallon per person) for three days; a 3-day supply of food; a radio (hand crank or make sure you pack extra batteries); a flashlight and extra batteries; first aid kit; whistle for calling for help; a wrench to turn off utilities if needed; and cash. It also recommends making sure you account for any special needs, like infant formula and diapers, medications and anything your pet might need, including a leash and food.

The city’s website even links to guide you through creating your own disaster preparedness plan. How easy is that?

I also talked to Adam Traylor, an Emergency Management Specialist with the city. First question: What are some of the most important aspects of a good disaster plan?

“Awareness is the first step in building a plan,” Traylor explained. “Understanding the hazards that are most likely to affect your community is the most important element to any emergency plan.”

The City says awareness starts by identifying hazards that could affect your community, including natural events, human-caused emergencies, and household hazards.

Next step, Traylor said, is to make sure you understand your home and workplace environment. Know where emergency exits are, make sure smoke detectors are checked regularly, and plan for the actions you’ll take for sudden emergencies.

Traylor also supplied a list of things people frequently forget to think about when planning for the worst.

  1. Make Plans Early – BEFORE the emergency
  2. Identify safe areas in your home for sheltering in place
  3. Identify escape routes in your home (2 per room)
    Identify places to meet as a family
    Outside your home & neighborhood
  4. Identify out-of-town meeting locations & contacts
  5. Include a list of important phone numbers
  6. Discuss and practice with your family

“Furthermore during a disaster like a tornado, it is very important that residents have a preparedness kit with copies of important documentation such as personal identification, homeowners insurance, birth certificates, and cash money,” Traylor added.

And if you don’t have a lot of interior rooms or a safe room, the city and Traylor recommend getting to a windowless interior room like a bathroom, closet or inner hallway. “Stay as far from windows as possible,” Traylor said, adding that the center of a room is better because corners tend to attract debris. If you can, get under a sturdy piece of furniture and hold on to it, and protect your head and neck with a blanket, if you can.

But even more importantly, there is a way you can help your neighbors and your family during and after a disaster. The city’s Community Emergency Response Team is the largest in the North Texas region, Traylor said, and they’ve been busy responding to the recent tornados with damage assessments and debris clean up.

“That being said we are always looking to expand the amount of trained volunteers that participate in the Dallas CERT program,” he said. “Our goal is to have a preparedness leader in each Dallas neighborhood so they can problem solve together as leaders in the community; make a plan, build a kit and stay informed; discuss quality of life issues during an emergency; include schools, businesses and the faith-based community; develop a phone tree; and create a Neighborhood Disaster Committee.”

Ideally, Traylor added, these CERT trained volunteers would also be able to help plan what resources are available, including maps; lists of supplies, equipment and facilities; and Neighborhood Disaster Kits.

The city will be holding a new CERT training beginning January 16. Going through the training units (which is a 20 hour, 9 unit course usually offered of 2 1/2 Saturdays) mean that the next time something happens and you really want to help, you’re equipped and trained to do so. Classes can also be arranged for groups of 10 or more (so neighborhood associations and HOAs, get moving!) and the schedule and location can be arranged based on the group’s needs and availability.

All of this also means that if the worst hits your neighborhood, you are in a position to help, and possibly even have prepared your neighborhood to be ready for it.

There has been an increased interest in the training, Traylor said, since this weekend. “Yes, following any disaster we always see an increase in participation/interest,” he said. “Most of the time these individuals want to help right away but without the proper training, we cannot send them in to help.”

“That’s why CERT volunteers provide the greatest benefit to the community. They are trained, certified, and prepared,” he said. If you are interested in training, or your neighborhood is, contact Cassandra D. Wallace, City of Dallas EM Specialist/CERT Program Manager, at cassandra.wallace@dallascityhall.com or via phone at 214-671-8969.

So are you prepared for disaster? If not, are you making plans to be?