You hear the roar of sirens, see hail pelting the ground -- and you take cover. This is exactly what thousands in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area did Monday afternoon when a EF4 tornado ripped through their area, hitting the town of Moore the hardest.
But what can those in tornado-prone areas do before and after such a disaster hits? Can they even do anything to prepare for such a tragic event where homes and businesses were leveled in a matter of seconds?
A tornado moves past homes in Moore, Okla. on Monday, May 20, 2013. (Photo: AP/Alonzo Adams)
The president of the American Preppers Network Phil Burns told TheBlaze natural disasters like this are difficult to prepare for, outside of the general prepardness staples. Still there are steps you can take.
"It's hard to prepare to survive a hit but in a community it's pretty much the same general preparedness that you would do for any disaster" whether it be a tornado, hurricane, earthquake or massive snow storm, Burns said.
Burns, who lives in an area of the country not likely to see a tornado any time soon, was no stranger to twisters growing up in Missouri. From age 8 to 16, Burns said he remembers what it was like to see tornadoes not far from the house.
He recalled once seeing three smaller tornadoes touch down near his home in the 1980s.
"Your first thought is 'wow' and then 'oh crap, I need to go somewhere,'" he said.
Having a plan in place and knowing where to go and what to do, as per any disaster, is the first step in being prepared for it.
"Know your surroundings. Know where you can go that is going to be the safest," Burns said.
Aftermath of the May 20, 2013 tornado in Oklahoma. (Photo: TheBlaze)
Where to go varies based on where you are at the time when a tornado strikes:
- At home: Burns said of course an underground structure is the safest bet, but as TheBlaze pointed out earlier, cost and soil conditions in Oklahoma means many people don't have basements or cellars. The next safest place is the bathroom or the bathtub. Burns said the logic here is that the walls of the bathroom are taller than the room is wide, so if they're going to collapse, they are less likely to flatten out around you and bury you.
- In school: Much of the same logic for at home applies, although bathtubs might not be possible. School children are often told to get under desks or will line up in a window-less hallway against the wall with heads down and hands covering their necks.
- On the road: Burns said the best thing to do if a tornado is headed toward you on the road is to get out of the car -- just look at any of the pictures of vehicles after Oklahoma's tornado and you'll see why -- and lay flat in a roadside ditch where flying debris is less likely to hit you.
A vehicle lies upside down in the road after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. (Photo: Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Having an underground structure with general preparedness supplies -- food, water, medical kits, a battery-powered or crank-operated radio, etc. -- would be ideal, but Burns noted that for it to be used as protection, one would have to be near it at the time when the tornado hits.
As with any natural disaster, there is no way to control a tornado's path, but you can prepare for what to do in the aftermath, whether you're directly affected or if it hit your neighbor's house 100 yards away.
One thing that could be useful prior to the natural disaster is getting some sort of mass casualty training where you would learn triage and how to get people out of rubble. Urban rescue, such as what we're seeing in Moore, is a "technical undertaking," according to Burns, and training is important because trying to remove someone from rubble could potentially put the untrained or the person being rescued in more danger.
A child is pulled from the rubble of the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., and passed along to rescuers Monday, May 20, 2013. A tornado as much as a mile (1.6 kilometers) wide with winds up to 200 mph (320 kph) roared through the Oklahoma City suburbs Monday, flattening entire neighborhoods, setting buildings on fire and landing a direct blow on an elementary school.(Photo: AP/ Sue Ogrocki)
Here are some other suggestions from Burns that require less training but could still be useful directly after such a disaster:
- At a triage unit, even if you don't have medical training, Burns said there might be use for you to help bandage less severe wounds or hand out rations and water. He also noted being on the lookout for the "walking wounded," those who aren't in need of as much urgent medical care compared to those accepted into triage. He said you could have simple medical supplies ready to help those with cuts and other wounds and also offer comfort to them.
- If you're not training in the technical nature of rescuing people from trapped buildings, Burns said these rescuers might need your help walking those they've brought out of the rubble away from the scene. "Technical rescuers get people out and have to get onto the next one," Burns said, noting you could be on hand to help those in shock get to medical care or away from the site.
Ambulances are parked at Plaza Towers Elementary School as workers continue to dig through the rubble after a tornado moved through Moore, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2013. (Photo: AP/Sue Ogrocki)
After tornadoes roared through Dallas- Fort Worth, Texas, last year, the blog Imminent Threat Solutions also pulled together a good list of lessons learned regarding preparedness. Reminders included:
- Keeping important documents and records in a waterproof bag, or even better a waterproof and fireproof safe.
- Having records of what you own in general for insurance purposes as proof after everything is lost in a disaster and you've had to "leave it all behind."
- Being prepared for utility outages -- water, gas and electric.
- Having a backup form of communication. Text messaging often still works on cellular phones even if voice service is down. Alternatively, CB or HAM radios could be useful.
While rescue continues into Tuesday in Oklahoma, recovery is sure to begin in the coming days as well. This is where a massive amount of debris will first need to be cleared from the area before any sort of rebuilding can begin. This stage is critical for a community, Burns said.
"You see some places where they wait for the government and then some places where they come together and work as a community," Burns said, noting the latter is what he would prefer.
Workers continue to dig through the rubble of Plaza Towers Elementary School after a tornado moved through Moore, Okla. , Monday, May 20, 2013. (Photo: AP/Sue Ogrocki)
"Be ready to come together to help each other out. What do you do? You pull together and and get through it. That is the key."