June 2013, Volume 24 Number 2 Search All Oracle Editions

Tornadoes...YES, they happen here too!

During the H.E.L.P. Audits, I always ask the principals if they are conducting tornado drills at their schools and the results are concerning. Many school boards are not doing tornado drills. The comment that I often get is, “oh, we don’t get tornadoes around here”…well, that couldn’t be further from the truth!

According to the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Environment Canada, Ontario has an average of 12 tornadoes a year. Most tornadoes occur between the months of May and September. With the F3 tornado that occurred in Goderich less than 2 years ago and the Oklahoma tornado that occurred May 20th killing dozens of people including students from an elementary school, this should be a reminder that these devastating weather events are unpredictable and yes… they do occur in Ontario. A tornado can last just a few minutes to as long as a few hours, therefore it’s extremely important for schools to be prepared and practice these drills.

Because tornadoes can develop very rapidly, it is vital that people know what to do in a weather emergency. The following risk management recommendations are intended to assist you in setting your local response plan:

  1. Plan ahead! Have a tornado plan in place and practice tornado drills (Recommended twice a year):
    • September to ensure students new to the school are familiar with procedures
    • April to review procedures prior to the start of the season in which most tornadoes occur in southern Ontario.
  2. Be weather alert! Keep an eye on the sky, learn about the signs of severe weather, and listen for severe weather watches or warnings.
  3. If a tornado threatens, take shelter immediately! Stay away from windows and outside walls. Flying debris is the biggest tornado hazard.
  4. If caught outdoors, with no shelter available, never seek refuge in a car or school bus. Lie flat in a ditch, ravine or other low lying area, and shield your head with your arms.
  5. Move all students into or as near the ground floor as possible.
  6. Move to a room without windows or a large roof (avoid gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums, etc.) Large, open-span areas such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and lunchrooms, can be very dangerous even in weak tornadoes and should not be used for sheltering people. This sort of room has inherent structural weaknesses with lack of roof support, making them especially prone to collapse with weaker wind loading than more compact areas of the same school building.
    Consider:
    • The basement or a place on the lowest floor of the school.
    • In the interior of the building such as hallways.
    • If you’re in the classroom, take cover under the desk.
  7. Boiler rooms, mechanical rooms and sprinkler rooms are not to be used as places of refuge. Select interior rooms without windows in the core area of the building if possible, for example, interior hallways that do not open to the outdoors. Keep all people away from the full swing distance of all doors.
  8. Move all students who are outside the school or in a portable into the main school building. Portable classrooms are most often constructed like mobile homes which can be damaged or overturned in high winds such as a tornado would generate. Any sound tornado safety plan must include getting students out of portable classrooms and into a safe area in the main building, as quickly as possible, to minimize the time spent outside and exposed to the elements. If feasible, students should be evacuated from portable classrooms before the storm threatens – for example, when a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch is issued by Environment Canada.

Remember...Tornadoes can occur with little or no advance warning.

Stay safe!