Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground, usually in the shape of a funnel.

Tornadoes are earth’s most violent storms and often form quickly, leaving little time to make life-or-death decisions. To survive a tornado, advanced planning and a quick response are essential.

Before a tornado

  • Check out FLASH Hurricane Strong for do-it-yourself ways to strengthen your homes against flooding, high winds and lightning.
  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • Designate an area in your home as a shelter:
    • The safest place during a tornado is a storm shelter or underground room, such as a basement or cellar.
    • If going underground is not an option and you do not have access to a storm shelter, the next safest place is a small interior room (such as a bathroom, hallway or closet) on the lowest floor, away from windows and exterior walls.
  • Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning:
    • Tornado watch: A tornado is possible. Stay tuned to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio or TV for more information and be prepared to seek shelter quickly if necessary.
    • Tornado warning: A tornado is expected or occurring. Take shelter immediately.
  • Be familiar with tornado warning signs:
    • An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible.
    • Dark, towering and threatening clouds.
    • Greenish sky.
    • Large hail.
    • Rotating, low-lying clouds.
    • Loud roar, similar to a train.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a tornado

  • If in a structure (home, school, shopping center, etc.):
    • Quickly go to your predesignated shelter, such as a basement, storm shelter or interior room on the lowest level of the building.
    • Avoid windows, corners and places with wide-span roofs such as cafeterias and auditoriums.
    • Get under a sturdy table or similar piece of furniture, and cover your head with your arms.
    • If in a mobile home, get out immediately and find shelter in a nearby building.
    • If time permits, put on sturdy shoes.
  • If outside:
    • Get inside a building, if possible.
    • If a shelter is not available or there is no time to get indoors, lie in a ditch or crouch near a strong building and cover your head with your arms.
  • If in a vehicle:
    • Never try to outdrive a tornado; tornadoes can change direction quickly and lift up a vehicle.
    • Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building, or look for a ditch to lie down in.
    • Avoid bridges and overpasses.

After a tornado

  • Stay tuned to a NOAA weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Help injured or trapped people. Don’t try to move seriously injured people unless they are in immediate danger of death or further injury. Call for help.
  • Stay out of damaged buildings. Do not return home until authorities declare it is safe.
  • Be aware of hazards from broken glass, exposed nails and downed power lines.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Check for damage to walls, roof, foundation, electrical system and water lines.
    • Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or other flammable liquids immediately.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Wear sturdy shoes, long sleeves and gloves to minimize risks.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current storm information

Other information

Family communications plan

When a disaster strikes, your family might not be together, and communication channels might be down. It is important to plan how you will contact one another and discuss how you will communicate in different disaster situations.

Learn more

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