Severe weather preparedness is essential for all schools. These guidelines were developed for school administrators and emergency management personnel to help develop a preparedness plan that fits their school. Remember that there is no one solution that fits every case; every storm is different and may bring different threats.
A unique plan should be developed for your school using the guidelines below, your experience, and local considerations. However, if there is one idea that works in nearly all scenarios, it is this: "Put as many walls between you and the storm as possible."
Additional reference material is listed at the bottom of this page.
Before the Storm: Prepare and Practice
Perhaps the most important part in this process is being ready BEFORE severe weather strikes.
1) Educate yourself
Preparedness is easier when you understand the possible threat(s) and "lingo" used in the business. Do you know what a "WATCH" and WARNING" are? Educate yourself on severe weather and how the warning process works. This will help you understand the range of possibilities and limitations you have to plan for.
Hazardous Weather Outlooks (HWO) are issued daily from the National Weather Service (NWS) and can alert you of expected hazards out to seven days in the future. Outlooks are available in both graphical form or a text format. These outlooks are also broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio between 6 AM and Noon.
2) Develop an Action Plan
If you currently do not have a severe weather action plan for your school, developing the plan will be a large part of your preparedness work. In fact, this entire document could be considered part of the plan. Your county emergency management director or the National Weather Service (NWS) can assist in this process and provide guidance. The plan for your school will have to be tailored to your particular set up.
Physical Layout of School/Buildings - Closely examine the layout of your structure. You'll need to determine your designated shelter areas. Use a map of the school and physically tour the building(s) with your top school officials. You may also want to invite local fire department personnel, emergency management, or a member of the NWS to assist. Ideally students should be moved to the lowest level(s) possible, to interior rooms away from exterior walls and windows that may certainly fail in the event of a tornado or strong, damaging winds.
Shelter Considerations - There are many things to consider when mapping out your shelter areas. Also take into account non-routine school activities or other times the buildings are being used.
Notification - Develop a method to notify every one to seek shelter. It could be a speaker system, special tone, or bell, but ensure you have a backup method (air horn or megaphone) in the event you lose electricity. Ensure every one clearly knows what the notification signal is. Shelters should be clearly marked as such, with arrows directing people to the "safer" areas.
School Bus Considerations - Include in your plan what bus drivers should do while at the school or during transportation.
Your plan should be reviewed at least annually, and anytime changes are made to the physical building, shelters, or classroom sizes. A good chance to practice is during the annual statewide Tornado Drills held in late March to mid-April each spring.
Inform parents of your action plan which might involve students remaining or delayed at school beyond regular hours if severe weather is threatening.
Whether you use commercial radio, television, private service, a community outdoor siren, or the Internet, you should have a NOAA Weather Radio as a direct source of watches and warnings directly from the National Weather Service. A weather radio continuously monitors the issuance of these types of alerts and can give you advance notice allowing you time to plan or activate your action plan. A desktop model can be placed in a central office allowing full monitoring by administrative staff. A weather radio also has a battery back-up in case of power loss. Be sure to educate your staff on what to listen for when the radio activates its alert tones. (A weather radio can also be used during the winter months to monitor wind chill conditions during extreme cold.)
A program through the Dept. of Homeland Security provided weather radios to numerous schools across the country. Check this web site for additional information on this program - http://public-alert-radio.nws.noaa.gov/proginfo.htm.
Make sure the weather radio or other source of weather information is available even during non-routine school activities. In 2002, a high school in north central Wisconsin was hit by a tornado but the school's football team that was holding a practice did not hear the warning because the weather radio was locked in the office.
Like other aspects of proper preparation, a pro-active approach is needed when monitoring local weather conditions. Although warning lead times are increasing by the National Weather Service, you should not assume you will always receive a warning or "heads up" of threatening weather. If you spot a tornado or severe weather approaching, you should follow your action plans even if a warning is not heard. Consider attending a Skywarn severe weather spotter training class or designate staff members as spotters around your school. Bus drivers can benefit from this type of training as well so they can learn basic cloud formations that may be precursors of impending severe weather. Spotter training is held in March-May each year.
During the Storm: Act
1) Monitor Weather Conditions
If your school has a designated storm spotter, have them be in position. Short range radios might be a good idea for communication between the spotter(s) and school administrator or office.
If amateur radio operators or fire department personnel do storm spotting in your community, their radio traffic can be monitored via a scanner. That may be another option for real-time storm conditions.
Use your action plan by ensuring:
If time allows, take note of problems that develop while the plan is being used.
Do not go near windows if severe weather is striking. Do not try to open windows or doors to equalize pressure. The pressure difference in a storm is not what damages buildings - it is the strong wind and flying debris associated with the storm or tornado that will cause damage and could explode glass or exterior walls.
Continue to monitor weather conditions until you are sure thunderstorms have passed.
School Bus Considerations -
After the Storm: Review
1) Damage Assessment
Additional Reference Material