Storm emergency experts offer tips for weathering nature’s summer fury

by Dawn Mitchell

Severe Storm Awareness Week blew out of town Thursday, concluding with a workshop to increase faculty and staff awareness about what to do if tornadoes strike the University campus.
About 60 University faculty and staff attended the two workshops held in the Bell Museum and the Classroom Office Building.
Judson Freed, director and training coordinator of the Department of Emergency Management, illustrated the characteristics of severe thunderstorms through a series of slides and videos. He also offered tips about what to do in case of a tornado warning.
Warning sirens were sounded by the service at 1:45 p.m. and 6:55 p.m. Thursday in observance of Severe Storm Awareness Week.
About 700 tornadoes occur in the United States each year, taking an average of 105 lives.
“We need the citizens to protect themselves,” said Freed.
Sirens don’t mean people should take cover immediately. Rather, people should go to a radio or TV to find out more information when they hear the siren, Freed said.
The sirens can also be used to warn people of other things, such as flash floods.
Freed said cities are not protected from tornadoes, as some people assume. The Twin Cities campus was struck by a tornado in the early 1980s near the Superblock, he said.
“We’ve come really close but we haven’t been hit by anything big yet,” said Freed.
If a tornado warning is issued — which means a tornado has been spotted — people in campus buildings should get to the lowest level of the building, he said.
“The top floor is a bad place to be,” he added.
Heavy rains or high winds might cause roofs to collapse, said Freed, who advised people to avoid auditoriums, gymnasiums or large areas with poorly supported roofs in such conditions. Anyone inside during storms should go to the center of the building and stay away from any glass.
The glass windows covering the outside of Coffman Union and the roof of Williams Arena are especially dangerous locations during a severe storm, Freed said. Tunnels on campus or the lower floors of underground parking garages are good places to take cover.
Freed said people stuck outside during storms should get on the ground, cover the back of their neck, put their face down and cover their eyes.
“Picture grit flying at 300 miles per hour,” he said.
Freed also told faculty and staff that warning sirens are not designed to be heard indoors. He suggested buying a weather radio and keeping it in the office.
“It’s good to be reminded about what to tell colleagues and about where to go,” said Dave McAllister, administrative intern for the emergency management issues division, who attended the afternoon workshop on the St. Paul campus.