Students prepare for stormy skies

The wail of the tornado sirens could be heard in Jackson County on Thursday morning and in the evening as schools, businesses and families practiced severe weather emergency plans.

This week has been Severe Weather Preparedness Week in Indiana, and with spring here, that means severe storms are more likely.

At Emerson Elementary School in Seymour, teachers and administrators prepared students beforehand to ensure each child knew exactly where to go and what to do in the event of a real tornado.

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For most students, this marked their second tornado drill of the year, as schools are required by the state to conduct one each semester, Emerson Principal Julie Kelly said.

When the National Weather Service issues a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning, Kelly said that’s when action must be taken.

“If it’s a watch, we just keep our eyes on it,” she said.

On Thursday, Kelly calmly announced over the intercom it was time for everyone to go to their tornado shelter areas.

For the 50 or so first-graders in Betsy Bryant and Monica Kriete’s classes, that meant filing into the shared restroom area that connects the two classrooms.

The students quietly sat down side by side, pulled their knees up, bent their heads down and interlocked their hands over their heads and necks.

All classes have an assigned area; however, there are other rooms in the school that are visually designated as tornado shelters, too.

“That way, if there are visitors in the building, they can identify a safe place to go,” Kelly said.

Kriete said it’s good for students to practice tornado drills so, if the time comes, they know what to do, and it seems more routine.

The school conducts lockdown drills and fire drills, too.

Kriete recalled that four or five years ago when she was working at Redding Elementary School, a tornado warning was issued at the end of the school day. Students had to stay quiet and in their safety positions for about an hour.

“They knew what to do, and they took it seriously,” she said. “So it does work to practice.”

One student said it’s important to be quiet during a tornado drill or a real weather emergency in order to hear instructions, while another said sitting the way they were would help protect their bodies from flying debris.

Over the years, procedures have changed from filing out into hallways, crouching down on hands and knees and using books to cover the back of the neck.

Kelly said shorter, interior hallways are still considered safe, but long hallways with doors on either end can become wind tunnels and lead to injuries.

Duane Davis, director of the Jackson County Emergency Management Agency, said being prepared for a weather emergency can help prevent injuries and loss of life.

“Most people respond to situations better when they have had the forethought of ‘What are we going to do when this happens?’” Davis said.

Plans don’t have to be written on paper, he added, but should be thought through so people aren’t quite so panicked and are able to deal with unplanned issues that may arise.

Foremost, Davis said, preparation begins with being able to receive or access weather alerts.

“It can be through a weather alert radio or apps on phones, the regular radio or television, the Internet,” he said. “Once they receive that warning, then it’s time to evaluate the impact it may have on them, their family, their workplace or school.”

If there is a high probability for major impact, people should activate their emergency plans, including moving to a safe and secure location.

“The best place is an interior room on the lowest possible floor, with little to no upper head shelving or glass,” he said.

Anyone in a mobile home needs to move elsewhere, Davis added.

With advances in technology, early warnings are available, but it’s still up to the individual to make a decision on what actions to take, he said.

“That’s part of the planning,” he said. “You don’t want to wait until the storm is upon you to start traveling.”

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In homes or small buildings:

  • Go to the basement or to an interior room on the lowest floor, such as a closet or a bathroom. Wrap yourself in overcoats or blankets to protect yourself from flying debris.

In schools, hospitals, factories or shopping centers:

  • Go to interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from glass-enclosed places or areas with wide-span roofs, such as auditoriums and warehouses. Follow the instructions of the facility safety officials.

In high-rise buildings:

  • Go to interior small rooms or halls. Stay away from exterior walls or glassy areas.

In motor vehicles or mobile homes:

  • Abandon them immediately. Most tornado deaths occur in vehicles and mobile homes. If you are in either of these locations, leave them and go to a substantial structure or designated tornado shelter. If no suitable structure is nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch or depression and use your hands to cover your head.

Source: Jackson County Emergency Management Agency