The last full week of August was another bad week for tornados in the North American heartland. Four people were injured in Windsor, Ontario and 15 more in Howard County, Indiana, where as many as 800 people may have lost their homes. Drone video from a local TV station showed significant damage from eight rapid-fire funnel cloud touchdowns.
In Northwest Ohio, "an absolute monster" storm was reported by the Associated Press and CNN. Ten to fifteen more tornados hit other parts of the Midwest on the same afternoon in an unpredicted widespread outbreak that caused a Washington Post writer to question what went wrong at the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center.
Last spring, a single storm front traveling from the Midwest to the South spawned two dozen separate tornadoes. Those storms generated torrential hail, lashing rains, and severe flash flooding. Houses were destroyed. Power lines were downed. Cars slid off roads. People died.
Protecting Your Community
When even the world's most sophisticated supercomputers cannot always predict tornados, the value of rapidly-deployable public alerts and integrated crisis communications systems for every municipality is underscored.
Tornados represent extremely difficult challenges for local and regional government first responders and federal relief agencies. Tornados are produced by powerful, rapidly moving weather fronts. They can be very unpredictable in terms of where they form and when they touch down.
A single tornado can cover many miles of terrain. At the same time, the pathway of damage is usually very narrow. Within that corridor, little is likely to be left standing as the funnel blasts through. Many different jurisdictions for first responders and recovery crews have to be alerted for each storm, but the damage itself is likely to be highly localized.
Tornados are notorious for their ability to touch down, pick up, then hit again somewhere else. Even the best tracking systems tend to lag up to several minutes behind the actual location of a funnel cloud, and who might be in harm's way becomes an exercise in estimation based on the storm's most likely track. This high degree of variability means that large areas of geography and population often must be placed under alert, and the areas affected can change on a moment's notice.
Crisis communications when tornadoes strike is dependent on the system's ability to speed response and coordinate emergency information quickly and accurately across multiple jurisdictions. Field personnel must be able to stay in close contact with weather forecasters and each other as these storms morph and move, even when telephone lines and electricity supply are likely to be unavailable.
Proactive Local / Regional Government Preparedness
As a first priority, make sure that your local emergency preparedness and crisis communications networks have the ability to reach out to all the first responder organizations in your region. Many of these agencies may share a platform designed for interoperability, such as AtHoc. Others may not, but your crisis communications system has to connect with them anyway.
Redundancy is another key need. Whether the power grid is operational or mobile phone towers are functional, whatever type of emergency radio systems are used across the region, your communications platform has to have the ability to function, with a breadth of integrations that ensures that you and your staff can reach everyone you need to for information, task assignment, and damage reports.
You can't stop a tornado, and it's all but impossible to limit its damage, but you can minimize loss of life with the proper crisis communications solution. If you have any doubts as to your organization's readiness for tornado season, now is the time to test, drill, and improve.
AtHoc and BlackBerry offer special programs for businesses, schools, towns, cities, counties, states, parishes, and provinces to help them improve their severe weather public alerting and crisis management systems. Please feel free to contact us for more information.