Tornado emergency planning is an effort that should be highly considered today. Tornadoes are increasing each year and the media shows more and more significant tornado emergencies happening each severe weather season. A tornado emergency is when a destructive tornado is on the ground and doing damage. Consider a tornado emergency like the ‘mother nature’ version of an active shooter in progress – thus, why we stick ‘emergency’ on its title. Tornado emergency planning is significant for business and organizations because efforts made within tornado emergency planning can essentially save lives and even protect business and organization assets and property. To not plan at all will create further incidents which will result in more spending in the end – planning now can be the main factor concerning financial distress before, during and after a major tornado event. In this article, we will be looking at a fictional scenario that could happen and the reasoning behind tornado emergency planning.

Tornado Emergency Planning

This article and guide was created for everyone but it will be most effective for business and organizational entities. Business leaders, continuity managers, incident managers, emergency managers, security management and members of business and organizational public safety will find this information to be extremely useful when conducting tornado emergency planning for their business or organization. However, this document could be used in educational-based campuses, government facilities, local community and even residential areas as well. Those who read and enjoy this guide may use any portion of it to be included in their tornado emergency planning doctrine – however, it is suggested that further research and knowledge be acquired as this guide isn’t developed to address all issues concerning tornado emergency planning for business and organizations.

 

Scenario: Lack of Tornado Emergency Planning

The Stuff Manufacturing Incorporated factory (Stuff Inc.) is located in a rural area region within the southern Midwestern United States. Stuff Inc. is an assembly line based factory with three separate buildings on its property. About 60 workers are within each building on the property bringing the total number of workers on site at a time to 180 workers including administrative, management and hourly personnel. In addition, there are about 10 contractors on site including 2 contract security officers guarding the facilities, 4 custodians and 4 construction workers building a new office in Building-3 on the property. The shift is second shift. Most of the main administrative staff members have left for the day including the factory manager, human resources manager and the safety manager.

Stuff Inc. has complied with OSHA 1910.38 standard concerning emergency action planning. A few workers in each of the three buildings are considered first responders with very little training, an emergency action plan has been created, and an in-house warning siren is installed and can be accessed by contract security personnel and there are 3 designated tornado shelters in each of the three buildings. As far as other planning and training is concerned, Stuff Inc. has yet to complete it. Stuff Inc. has not experience any sort of major incident before besides a fire that could not be controlled by on-site emergency response personnel. The fire department was called and an incident command system was activated. There was a lot of communication issues between firefighter personnel and administrative personnel who insisted on going into the building where the fire was during fire-ground operations. Other than that, no significant incidents have occurred at Stuff Inc.

Earlier in the day, local meteorologists gave a weather report that conditions were favorable for tornado outbreak atmospheric elements. At about noon, a Tornado Watch was issued for the area by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Dark clouds were approaching the area of the Stuff Inc. facility at around shift change into the second shift. Administrative personnel who were leaving for the day could easily observe that storm conditions were near. The safety manager told a security guard at the gate that the storms could get bad. The security officer said he would listen to the radio if it started to storm. The conversation ended after that with the departure of the safety manager.

At around 1600 hours, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning based on rotation being observed by Doppler radar systems. The warning was issued over the radio. The security officer heard the warning and called a supervisor from Building-1, Building-2 and Building-3 top inform them of the tornado warning that has been issued. Building-3 in particular was concerned about stopping the assembly line due to a product that was due for shipment in the upcoming days. The Building-3 supervisor told security that most of the time, Doppler indicated storms are not usually actual tornadoes. Building-1 and Building-2 decided to work as well. The supervisors informed the guard to update them only when there is an actual tornado of the ground, coming for the facility.

At around 1610 hours, the tornado warning issued was updated to a tornado emergency situation. The radio reported the Skywarn storm spotters had observed a very large tornado on the ground doing a lot of residential damage in the area. The town of the factory was not mentioned in the report but its direction was. However, the guard on duty was new and not from the exact area and did not know that the factory was in the direct path of the storm. At 1618 hours, the security guard stationed at the gate could observe the tornado coming directly at the facility. In panic, the guard abandoned his post and went to lay into a nearby ditch to take shelter. He did not call anyone to warn them before the tornado hit.

Building-3 was significantly damaged with about 37 confirmed fatalities and at least 21 injuries including head trauma, severed limbs and minor injuries as well. Among the dead was the building supervisor and the second contract security officer who was making his patrol rounds. Building-2 sustained minor damage with 1 fatality and 7 injuries. Building-1 was not damaged significantly and no one was harmed in the event. The security officer who fled to a ditch was seriously injured with heavy debris pinning him to the ground. He had no way to call for help. A supervisor from Building-1 notified the county 911 dispatch office that the Stuff Inc. industrial park had been hit by a tornado and help was needed.

Within minutes, a large amount of emergency personnel had arrived on scene including fire and EMS and law enforcement officers. The fire chief who arrived on site took the role of Incident Commander (IC) and activated the Incident Command System. The IC asked the Building-1 supervisor who was in charge, the supervisor could not answer the question. The on-site emergency responders did not know how to handle to situation and was unable to answer most of the questions from responding emergency personnel such as all the locations of the shelter areas, where gas and water shutoff locations were and a way to conduct a head count of the facility employees.

Many of the employees were searching through the debris attempting to find fellow co-workers. Fire personnel ordered them to stop as they were in danger but many of them refused. Law enforcement had to physically restrain and detain many employees because they refused to comply with the fire department commands. Shortly after the first responders arrived, Building-2 caught fire with employees still trapped inside. Multiple gas and water lines were ruptured and dangerous caustic sodium chemicals were released after the tornado hit the area where they were stored. Family members started calling the facility begging for information about their loved ones. The media showed up and multiple workers started taking the role of spokesperson telling the reporters that they were not prepared for an incident like this one. Social media rumors shortly started after several employees expressed their disgust about how Stuff Inc. had not planned for such a terrible disaster and that people were dead because of it. This scenario represents probably one of the worst case scenarios but it could happen to your business or organization in your local community without proper tornado emergency planning.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning isn’t just a Government Process

Many businesses and organizations are blindly under the assumption that the federal, state, tribal and local government officials are first responders when it comes to disaster. Local governments are often the source of immediate first responders as most disasters start on a local level. However, in order for emergency management to be effective and realistic and to result with successful endings, the ‘Whole Community’ must be involved in the process. Tornado emergency planning is not just the responsibility of the local authorities, it is the duty of the Whole Community including businesses, organizations and even the average citizen of a local community. It is the responsibility of Stuff Inc. to plan for the safety and disaster response and actions efforts of their facility to protect their employees, guests and contractors. By not planning, Stuff Inc. simply has placed a gap in the resiliency of their own local community and its emergency management framework. In the next few topics, we will be going over the phases of emergency management including preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery efforts concerning tornado emergency planning scenarios.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning: The Preparedness Phase

Preparedness can be defined as a state of being ready for an event or type of incident. In tornado emergency planning, preparedness would simply mean that an entity that does plan for a tornado is prepared for a tornado occurring on their property. If Stuff Inc. had taken the time to prepare for a tornado emergency before the emergency actually took place, the company would be successfully utilizing their preparedness skills and planning before, during and after the tornado event in most cases. Take a look at your own company or organization and ask yourself this question… Would you rather your company be ready for a tornado emergency or would you rather the company be not ready at all? The answer is obvious, preparedness is the correct answer here. Don’t assume another agency or entity is covering the costs of preparedness for your company and that you have nothing to worry about – because you would be dead wrong in the end.

The preparedness planning phase in the overall tornado emergency planning process can be visually seen as a circle. The circle is never-ending because the preparedness phases deserve constant attention by business and organizational safety and continuity leaders. The first phase of the preparedness planning circle is to assess the threat which would be the tornado in this case. A full threat and hazard assessment of a tornado emergency would require research into the possibilities and historical trends of tornadoes happening in the area of the business or organization. The threat assessment would also focus on areas of the business that is most vulnerable to the risks associated with tornadoes and related severe weather events. All risks associated with a tornado emergency in regards to the facility should be assessed during this phase. The second phase of the preparedness circle is to identify gaps and requirements based on assessments that have been made. Gaps are going to be areas of the plan without preparedness coverage or a plan to be ready for a disaster. The requirements are going to be what is needed to fill the gaps. The third phase of the preparedness circle is to implement required enhancements that will be used to fill the gaps of the planning. This could be in terms of safety engineering, personnel training, warning systems, procedures and etc. The fourth phase of the preparedness circle is exercise and train all employees, guests and visitors on the procedures concerning their roles during a tornado emergency. Safety procedures, evacuations/sheltering and even public relations requirements should be included in this portion of the tornado emergency planning process. The final phase of the preparedness circle is reassessing the process of the preparedness circle by gathering lessons learn from training and planning. This phase may be the final phase but it results in starting from phase 1 and repeating the process in an infinite manner. Tornado emergency planning and preparedness will never come to an end, if it does, failure will be the likely result.

So what were the lessons learned in regards to preparedness at the Stuff Inc. industrial park concerning what could had been effective in tornado emergency planning? We will go over some topics concerning this scenario and while it will not cover all the topics, you are encouraged to review topics not covered and create a preparedness plan for such topics on your own. Please feel free to comment below with the preparedness ideas and innovations that you have determined from this particular scenario:

Planning – Planning is one of the most significant failures concerning this particular type of scenario. The general planning was that which was required by OSHA per 1910.38 standards which is general basic, not covering specific details concerning specific functions of the facility. OSHA guidelines are there merely as a starting point for planning rather than an ‘all-in-one’ planning system. Such an event should had been planned and exercised for in the first place, employees would had gained experience this way without an incident actually occurring for experience to be gained in the first place.

Head Count – As per the scenario explained above, no particular system appeared to be in place concerning a head count system or at least personnel had no idea how such an activity could be deployed. A company should never assume any one employee could know everyone within their facility. A system must be in place to provide easy access to a head count procedure. Many companies are taking technological means by using a badge system which can allow for authorized members to print out an on-site premise report of current employees and guests. A simple sign-in sheet and clock-in system could also suffice for this very procedure as well.

Personnel Procedures – What were the procedures concerning supervisors in relation to severe weather? How about security and safety personnel? How about Emergency Response Team (ERT) members? How about those responsible for monitoring severe weather? How about employees and guests when emergencies occur? There are so many questions that can be asked here in regards to personnel and visitor procedures within the realm of tornado emergency planning. In the scenario above, procedures was quite absent. It seemed that no one exactly knew what to do concerning a tornado emergency happening in the area. Security for example could had been the primary monitoring group for severe weather events. In the event of a warning, all security personnel could had been present monitoring the conditions and looking at the right resources for determining threatening weather. ERT members could had been informed along with supervisors. In general, all employees and guests should had received some sort of training and/or informative sessions on what to do when a tornado occurs at the facility.

Response – While we will cover emergency response further into this article, it is still associated with preparedness and should be addressed now. Employees were aimlessly searching through debris and ignoring emergency personnel’s orders to cease as they were putting themselves in danger of further hazards and threats and getting in the way of first responders. Panic and fear settled in, likely, and caused the employees to keep looking. Issues arise and some employees had to practically be arrested in order to stop putting themselves in danger by mimicking the procedure of emergency personnel. This leads us to our next topic…

Incident Command – What businesses and organizations really need to know is the basics of the Incident Command System (ICS) as well as the National Incident Management System (NIMS). These two systems are requirements of all first responders associated with federal, state, tribal and local governments. It determines how incidents are managed by those responding to them. Companies and organizations are not required to adopt ICS and NIMS but doing so would help strengthen the Whole Community effort of emergency management and allow the private sector and public sector to work together seamlessly. Working together in a coordinated fashion can help save lives and reduce financial loss.

Cascading Hazards – The final topic concerning preparedness is to understand that other hazards can occur in a cascading structure after one main significant hazard has occurred. In the scenario above, fires, leaks and hazardous material releases had occurred after the tornado hit the facility. Cascading hazards should be planned for and understood. This can be done during assessments into the threats, hazards and risks of the facility. Consider one significant disaster…what other hazards can be made from it? These are the cascading hazards that business and organization leaders should be planning for as well. A disaster doesn’t usually result in an end, it usually results in further disasters occurring – especially if such further disasters are not planned for.

Education, training and exercise is just as important and experience in many aspects concerning business and organizational means. This is especially true with disaster and emergency management. Experience for scenarios concerning tornado emergency planning can be obtained without an incident actually occurring through scenario-based exercising and training. Consider the scenario above, create it to be a training scenario of your facility and do a mock exercise involving administrative staff, supervisors, employees, contractors and local community public safety officials to gain needed experience in tornado emergency planning without a tornado emergency actually occurring in the first place. Lessons can also be learned during exercising and gaps can easily be identified. Exercising these scenarios allows a company or organization to achieve preparedness before it is too late.

In relation to training and exercises, facility awareness is also an important topic. Management, employees, contractors and visitors alike need to know about the severe weather plan. Management and actual employees should be trained on the plan in a tabletop exercise (TTX) whereas management personnel will give scenarios to seated employees and explain the policies and procedures for the scenarios. Contractors and visitors should be trained by security personnel in a quicker method. Handouts could be made explaining the basics of the procedure to quickly inform contractors and guests on their role during a tornado emergency including what warning systems to look and listen for and where to go for shelter. If personnel on the property does not understand what to do during severe weather, the results could be significantly catastrophic and further incidents will likely occur.

As a final note of business and organizational preparedness, one particular area of interest for such entities is public awareness and creating partnerships with other entities, especially within the local community. Business and organizations should strive to help out in their local community by connecting with other organizations and public safety agencies and creating severe weather awareness campaigns. For example, Stuff Inc. could host an annual event in coordination with a local retailer and give away free weather radios to participants who are willing to hear a quick seminar about the signs and safety measures concerning tornado emergency planning. Organizations should also invite public safety to exercises and create special partnerships with such agencies for further assistance during a time of significant need. Organizations should also look at ways to connect with other businesses and organizations for mutual aid agreements concerning response and resources. During a disaster, any additional help and resources will be significant.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning: The Mitigation Phase

Mitigation can be defined as actions and an effort to reduce the loss of life and property during major incidents. In tornado emergency planning, mitigation efforts are often made to reduce or even prevent fatalities, injuries and property loss during a tornado emergency event. It is likely that a significant tornado will cause damage during its reign but that doesn’t mean that the damage cannot be reduced or even prevented in many ways with human influence. In order to truly understand mitigation activities and skills, an organization or business first needs to truly understand the risks that threaten the facility so that actions can be made to mitigate the hazards and threats associated with the risks. Risk assessments and other analysis techniques will help a company determine what mitigation activities and efforts need to take place. In the mitigation phase of tornado emergency planning, a company should expect to perform significant amounts of research in order to be accurate with the planning process.

There are three steps to a successful mitigation effort in terms of tornado emergency planning. The first step is to identify hazards by assessing the risks and vulnerabilities of the company’s property, inside and out and behind every ‘nook and cranny’ if you will. Stuff Inc. could do this by starting out in one room at a time, looking for risks and vulnerabilities in the room associated with a tornado emergency and then determining hazards. Assessments should always have a scope. General assessments for all-hazards can often be overlooked because a specific hazard is not being assessed. If the assessment is for tornado emergency planning, company officials will be able to look for risks and vulnerabilities specific to tornado emergencies and usually find them easier than associated them with all types of hazards and incidents. The second step is to research the hazard to get the best stories on how to mitigate them so that proper mitigation efforts can be made. Research will be required and the amount of research might even take up a lot of time. Someone should be tasked with gathering the research and a planning team should go over what research has been gathered. For tornado emergency planning, research into various topics will be needed including historical data on the trends of previous tornado events, climate data on an annual basis, significant tornado events that have previously happened, gaps in local emergency response, mutual aid agreements between local emergency management agencies and previous efforts that have been made to mitigate hazards at the business or organization’s facility. Look for any information that can help with performing mitigation activities. The third step is to take action to prevent or reduce loss due to a tornado emergency situation occurring at your facility. In many cases with tornadoes, preventing damage and loss will often be impossible but reducing loss can be achieved with proper tornado emergency planning and mitigation efforts. Reducing and preventing loss should always be reserved for people first. Reducing loss for property or non-human assets before people is considered immoral and could even be defined as an illegal act. The biggest and most valuable resource to any entity will always be people. With these three steps, mitigation efforts can be put into place to prevent or reduce loss of life and property during the tornado emergency planning process of a business or organization.

Mitigation activities should always happen before and after an actual hazardous event. In terms of mitigation happening before the event, these activities should happen long before the event is actually taking place as a way to prevent or reduce loss through such activities pertaining to a tornado emergency and other types of hazards that might threaten the facility. In terms of mitigation techniques happening after an event, this will often be associated with the identified gaps and ‘lessons learned’ following the event timeline. The following topics are concerning mitigation activities that could had been taken before and/or after a tornado emergency incident taking place of the Stuff, Inc. property:

Designated People – Each shift and each building on the industrial park for Stuff, Inc. should have designated people concerning safety, emergency response and severe weather monitoring. Security and personnel are often the first choice as long as proper training has been concluded for these people. If severe weather strikes or threatens the area, someone needs to constantly be monitoring the potential for further related weather hazards that could threaten the facility. This task should not be regarded as a ‘part time’ task to only be done when a person has the time because that person might miss the ‘big picture’ and completely overlook an incoming threat to the facility and the safety of those within it.

Plans and Exercising – Planning and exercising can also be grouped into mitigation efforts because a system has been developed and implemented regarding the action and response for tornado emergency planning and scenarios. Plans should be well researched, developed, detailed and maintained every three to five years or sooner if needed. Exercises should be frequent whether it is monthly safety meetings to full-scale drills mimicking an actual tornado emergency scenario occurring on the property of the facility. The local government and its public safety agencies should be invited into the planning and exercising process as they can often serve as subject matter experts and also understand the action and response efforts that will be made at Stuff, Inc. to mitigate loss during a tornado emergency.

Monitoring and Communications – In the scenario above, the safety manager heard that storms might get bad and told the gate security officer about it. The security officer then monitored the radio for further information. While a NOAA all-hazards radio is a good tool to have for monitoring severe weather potentials, other tools are often needed. If there is computer and internet access, NOAA websites and even private radar software platforms can also serve as significant tools for identifying severe weather approaching the area. A television might also be a wise choice as local news agencies will often interrupt normal broadcasting to report of severe weather threatening the area. In regards to the tools available for monitoring severe weather, it is important that those doing the monitoring understand how to actually use and read the information provided from the tools. Critical communication procedures can also mitigate loss. It is important that monitors know who to contact concerning severe weather reports. It is also important for managers and supervisors to know the procedures for passing down the information, activating the warning system and sheltering in place. If a tornado warning for the area is issued, regardless of whether the tornado was spotted or radar detected, the situational danger is significantly elevated and the safest action is to take cover immediately to avoid loss of life.

Basic Response Procedures – If a facility has an Emergency Response Team (ERT) members, as all facilities should have, it is important that such members are trained on emergency response. Training should include basic first aid such as CPR and the use of an AED, basic search and rescue with emphasis on rescuer safety, coordination with public safety and a basic understanding of the Incident Command System (ICS) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and protocols for activating/deactivating the warning system as well as basic knowledge of fire protection and disabling gas and water lines if they are damaged or a threat to the infrastructure of the facility. A well-educated, trained and exercised ERT member will potentially prevent and/or reduce loss of life significantly verses those who are not trained that well.

Rumors – Gossip, false and inaccurate information and rumors are often considered disasters of their own especially to a business or organization. In the scenario above, we saw that the new media was getting bad information from untrained personnel and social media rumors were spreading. Each shift should have a designated public relations individual on the team or even multiple ones. This can be considered and secondary task or duty as employing a dedicated individual for this purpose isn’t financially positive since disasters don’t often happen each day. This particular task can also be reserved for specific members of management and all employees can be trained on not speaking to the media unless authorized. In terms of rumor control, strict policies should be made for employees about the use of social media. If an employee gets on social media and represents the company in a negative manner, no matter their opinion, termination should be a possibility in order to deter this sort of unethical behavior. Finally, a system should be in place for loved ones of employees to be informed of the situation so that panic can be controlled better.

As a final note regarding mitigation, it is important to recognize that new processes, systems and changes often add additional risks and vulnerabilities to the equation. Companies should recognize this and always assess the hazards of anything new that has been added. This could be for a new work procedure, a new facility or area that has been built, a new system put in place within the company and even new management put in place. Ignoring the possibilities of added hazards after change management has taken place can create unseen and challenging gaps in the mitigation process for a company so such changes should be looked at as soon as possible and further information may need to be added to the mitigation section of the facility tornado emergency planning process.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning: The Response Phase

Response in terms of tornado emergency planning can simply be defined as actions taken before, during and after a tornado emergency has taken place. Many people assume response occurs after an incident takes place but in many cases, especially concerning events such as tornadoes and other severe weather incidents, response actions can be taken before, during and after the storm takes place. Most response efforts and actions are done immediately or within a nature that is immediate because of the incident and its dangers. In many cases, response efforts are done quickly in order to save lives and protect human being and other living things from immediate danger and harm. Other response efforts may stretch out and take more time, it all depends on the associations with the tornado emergency that has occurred.

There are three important steps concerning emergency response before, during and after a tornado emergency. The first and most important step is to protect lives because humans are the main asset of a company, organization and a community. Nothing should be put above saving the life of another human being. Putting something else above that would not only be unethical, but the company that would do that would likely be facing many civil charges and even potentially criminal charges. Protection of the living is the first priority no matter what. The second step to response efforts is to stabilize the scene which means basically that efforts and actions are taken to make the incident scene stable and a lot safer than it was before. For example, Stuff, Inc. had gas and water leaks – the piping systems should had been turned off to make the scene more stable if such effort was possible. After saving lives, not stabilizing the scene would likely place more people in danger of injury and even death. The final step of emergency response that should be outlined in the tornado emergency planning process is to protect the property of the organization, business or community. After people have been helped and the scene has been made safer, efforts and actions can be conducted in an attempt to protect and preserve property and other assets within the company and at the facility that has been hit. The order in which has been described above is important to follow otherwise you can guarantee that cascading hazards and threats will likely follow.

Now let’s take a look at some of the response efforts that could have been made for the scenario above had proper tornado emergency planning occurred in the first place. It is important to remember that response efforts should be made when necessary and appropriate. Response efforts and actions can be taken before, during and after a tornado emergency. One particular golden rule for emergency responders is to never place themselves in the line of fire or immediate danger. Saving lives is one thing but becoming a victim because of negligent response efforts will only make the disaster worse than it was before.

Head Counting – After the tornado emergency occurred, a head count system was not in place and therefore ERT members were unable to give important head count information to firefighters responding to the crisis. A system should be put into place where everyone on site of the facility should sign in or use electronic badging systems. It is critical that management, ERT and security/safety personnel know everyone who is on-site at all times. Two-way radios and ERT head counting procedures could had prevented this cascaded threat from occurring in the first place.

Sheltering – Sheltering is a response action that usually takes place before the tornado hits the facility and should had taken place right when the warning was issued. Shelters should be safe areas not likely to be significantly damaged by tornadoes and other severe weather events. Shelters should be spread out in a manner of which the facilities full capacity can be sheltered and ease of access to shelters should be accomplished. Shelters can include break rooms, rest rooms, windowless rooms and offices, lower level points and cellars/basements. Everyone on site should have access to a shelter including security personnel. It should never be a requirement of security to remain out of the shelter to monitor severe weather since their lives will be in immediate danger following a warning.

Incident Command – One of the particular system used in disaster response by local communities and governments is the Incident Command System as well as the National Incident Management System. These two systems are very detailed, easy to follow and available for use by entities within the private sector as well. Using these systems will be beneficial because first responders will already be using these systems when they arrive on site. A site’s system that differs from the ICS and NIMS systems will not override first responders. They follow ICS and NIMS as required by the government. It is important that responders who work for company understand the basics of these systems and follow the orders and instructions of public safety officials and first responders arriving on site.

Rescue – Immediately after the tornado had passed, facility ERT members should had attempted a search and rescue for those stranded or trapped by debris in areas of the industrial park where the tornado hit. Rescuers should never put themselves in danger, though. The incident had already created many victim and search and rescue efforts made in an unsafe manner would likely only increase the victim numbers in the end. Search and rescue, even if at a basic level, requires training and exercising in order for it to be done in an effective and safe manner. In the end, training and exercise is going to be the most significant function of the tornado emergency planning process.

Monitoring – Before, during and after the incident had occurred, constant monitoring should had taken place. Monitoring response actions include constantly monitoring weather conditions for updates, watching radar and listening to a weather radio, communicating with management and ERT officials about updates and staying in constant awareness mode. Often times, private security forces are tasked with severe monitoring, during which time, security should abort all routine duties if possible and strictly monitor weather conditions. Security should also have access to portable weather radios to take with them if they need to seek shelter due to an approaching storm. Leaving this task entirely to security department members would be irresponsible since they could become disabled in some instance and furthering monitoring would not be done. Always have a plan-B for any type of situation especially if the situation involves preserving the lives of employees, contractors and guests on site.

Storm Spotting – One particular response action worth mentioning in this scenario is the National Skywarn Storm Spotter program. In many cases, during tornadic activity, many people do not understand the signs and elements of tornadoes and other severe weather. Meteorology can be a very challenging subject for most people. However, the National Weather Service offers free Skywarn storm spotter training as a volunteer organization to teach other how to effectively spot tornadoes and other severe weather events to be used to report such activities to local communities in an effort to increase the warning system. Such training should be offered to management, ERT members, safety officials and security staff to aid and assist them in understanding the signs and conditions of threatening severe weather elements.

Production and Safety – Many companies will try to determine whether or not sheltering or evacuations should take place during an emergency. Product due dates and profit issues come into play and taking employees away from work can often be financially challenging. However, intelligence and moral needs to also play into this particular situation. By not requiring all persons in the facility to take shelter due to an official tornado warning, a company will basically be placing their own people at risk of serious injury or even death. It is important to understand that this sort of action is not considered an accident, in some cases, it could be considered as homicide. Often in cases like these, family members of the injured or those who lost their lives will likely present lawsuits against companies for their negligence and failure to protect people who work for them. If you prevent sheltering because of a product being made during an emergency, you are simply being ignorant and should not be in a management position; this needs to be a blunt statement.

Functional response activities will play a very large role in the overall response routine for businesses and organizations in regards to tornado emergency planning. Organizations with continuity departments will respond by attempting to keep the company running so that profit isn’t lost. Safety and emergency management departments will respond by protecting lives, stabilizing the scene and protecting property. Maintenance departments will respond by fixing damaged areas and shutting off lines whereas danger is present. Executive departments will respond to overall management, coordination and public relation issues of the incident. Security officers will often aid in response activities as well as increase a security presence at the facility. Many different departments, all of them in most cases, can easily be given a response task per the expertise and skill development of their respective departments. Everyone should play a role in disaster response within the company or organization in order for the ending result to be positive and effective.

Special response circumstances should be included in tornado emergency planning for a company or organization. In the scenario above, hazard materials were released due to the tornado striking the facility. A hazmat emergency is significant and requires specialized response activities in order to protect lives, stabilize the scene and preserve property from being damaged due to the release of such materials. Planning should include these specialized response policies and procedures. Pending the type of company or organization, there will likely be several different types of specialized response efforts. In some case, some industries will require special government mandated response methods like nuclear facilities which are often mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the NRC. Nonetheless, it is important to plan for these special operations especially in terms of response activities.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning: The Recovery Phase

The recovery phase of the tornado emergency planning process often concludes the four phases of emergency and incident management. Recovery is the act of getting an organization or business back to normalcy after an incident has occurred. There is two kinds of recovery, short-term recovery which happens immediately or quicker than other types and there is also long-term recovery which will tend to occur over a longer period of time. However, it is important that business and organizational leaders understand that recovery doesn’t usually instantly happen. It can take years to recovery from a major incident like a tornado emergency, especially when people have witnessed traumatic events, lost their lives or became injured in the process. Recovery tends to fall on the outcomes on what lessons can be learned from the event in order to strengthen preparedness, mitigation, response and future recovery operations concerning events that might take place at a later date. Nonetheless though, one significantly important factor concerning recovery is the healing process that people will tend to seek out. Disasters are scary, even to us who are passionate about working in them. The chaotic and unexpected nature of a disaster can be life changing and proper recovery planning effort being made can help people cope with these significant life changing events.

There are two major types of recovery operations following a significantly disastrous hazardous event. The first form of recovery is short-term recovery and this type of recovery often overlaps the response mission after an incident has occurred. Short-term recovery tactics often include immediate and quick recovery operations taking place such as restoring power and water to a facility quickly and getting employees back to work so that they can continue to earn their living wage without too much time off. People want to return to normalcy as soon as possible after a major incident has occurred and short-term recovery methods can help make this happen. The other type of recovery is known as long-term recovery which is exactly what it is titled, recovery efforts that take a longer amount of time. An example of this could be related to employee coping, stress and depression. Employees witness a major event and thus become depressed and find it difficult to cope with. Employers can help alleviate this sort of recovery need by providing mental health support to employee who desire assistance. Imagine seeing your good friend parish during a tornado and because of the circumstances, there was nothing you could do to prevent it. Now imagine how you would feel about that sort of thing for a long period of time. Recovery isn’t always quick, sometimes, it is going to take a long time before recovery is at 100% and at times, recovery may never be achieved in the end.

The lessons learned during the recovery phase after a major disaster has occurred are important topics to consider. Disasters are chaotic and unexpected most of the time, especially natural disasters that often have limited warning or present methods to completely prevent from happening. It is important to learn all subjects concerning a previous disaster including what went wrong, what went right and unknown or hidden gaps in the planning process that was later learned during the recovery phase. Let’s take a look at the tornado emergency scenario above and determine what sort of recovery phase subjects could act as useful lessons to be learned for Stuff, Inc.

People – In any form of recovery, whether for a business or organization, people are the priority in terms of the recovery mission. It is important to recovery the job process and profits so that a company doesn’t have to cease their operations but people make this happen which is why they deserve priority over other assets. You simply cannot throw people away and start from scratch just so the business and profit earnings can return to normalcy unless you wish to be seen as one of the worst businesses around. Short-cuts and innovating methods of recovery in an attempt to save money when helping people is not often recommended. Sometimes money has to be spent in order for proper recovery actions to take place. There are many organizations and volunteers who will assist with the recovery process at little or no cost as well.

Planning – Basic planning is a good thing but it is usually never enough in terms of the recovery phase. Many companies and organizations in the United States will cover the basics of emergency management planning to remain legal or to comply with national safety standards. However, basic planning is never enough because each entity has its own unique elements and components that often require further planning methods be made. A proper plan that covers all or at least most aspects of organizational disasters and incident management will help with a speedier short-term and even long-term recovery process.

Information – Information sharing is another tactic often used to increase the success in emergency management for short and long-term recovery operations. Take 9/11 for example; some agencies knew of the threats but the primitive ‘Need to Know’ intelligence process was still being used thus the agencies would not share information. Imagine if they did… Imagine if 9/11 was prevented altogether. Imagine that recovery process verses the recovery process that is still ongoing today because 9/11 actually occurred. Information sharing could had played a significant role in preventing many recovery operations from having to happen in the first place regarding the tornado emergency scenario above.

Safety – In terms of preventing issues that will require significant recovery methods to take place, safety is a main priority. Not sheltering in place because a product is nearing its due date is only asking for a more challenging recovery process because employee safety is not being seen as a priority. Profit and business continuity can never be held over the safety of each individual that is dedicated themselves to assisting a company with gaining profit and aiding continuity. Withholding important safety principles from the people that make company actually work is only encouraging further disaster and thus an even longer term of recovery. The less recovery needed in literal terms, the better – don’t create issues that will require recovery at a later date.

Whole Community – As stated in the scenario above, the tornado hit residential areas before hitting the facility located within the Stuff, Inc. industrial park. A disaster is hardly ever isolated to one entity. A disaster usually affects the entire community where the disaster has happened. A quick recovery is important for a community because businesses and organizations are a pride of the community and often serve as economic stimulation for the community. A company like Stuff, Inc. would need to fully understand and utilize the fact that the recovery mission isn’t just for the company; it will be for the entire community that is served. With that being said, the community is often willing to help with the recovery process and an organization should be willing to accept all the help they can get from the community. The only true success in emergency management will only happen when the Whole Community in involved, especially in the recovery efforts after a disaster has occurred.

Vulnerabilities – One particular lesson that can be identified during the recovery phase following a major incident or disaster is a vulnerability. After an incident has occurred, often time, assessments can be made concerning what can be learned from the incident’s aftermath. With that being said, further hidden and unidentified gaps in the tornado emergency planning process can be uncovered. With this information, other phases concerning emergency management can be activated such as mitigations efforts to fill the gaps, preparedness actions to create a more prepared workplace for the next time a disaster strikes and lessons learned to strengthen the response system of the organization before, during and after a hazardous incident takes place.

Response – As stated above, short-term recovery often overlaps response operations because some aspects of what has been damaged during an incident can be recovered quickly. One particular important note to consider concerning response is preventing and mitigating further hazards and cascading disaster events from happening during response operations. This will essentially allow the company to take recovery-required incidents out the equation completely if further disaster and hazardous situations can be completely ceased before they create further chaos during the incident response and recovery phases.

When including recovery processes in a tornado emergency planning system, it is important to understand and identify all of the stakeholders that will be involved in the recovery phase. This not only includes employees, guests and members of the community that have directly experienced the disaster but it also include stakeholders who have indirectly experienced the disaster such as customers, third-parties, corporate office staff and clients. Planning should include recovery methods and procedures for dealing with each stakeholder of an organization and how recovery efforts will be made to assist them and allow them to further cope with what has happened during the incident.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning and OSHA 1910.38 (29 CFR)

In order to fully utilize the abilities and skills of proper tornado emergency planning, it is important that a company in the United States understands its legal obligations regarding the safety of their employees as well as means of egress and emergency action planning requirements enforced by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration or OSHA. These particular requirements and standards can be found in the OSHA 1910.38 29 CFR document available to all businesses and organizations across the nation. Please note that this is specific to the General Industry standards of the OSHA requirements.

A company with 10 or fewer employees can provide their emergency action plan in an oral capacity to their employees. Companies with more than 10 employees must provide a written document or guide of the emergency action plan and make the document or guide available to be reviewed by all employees of the organization. The minimum elements of the plan must include procedures for reporting fires and other emergencies, procedures for interior/exterior evacuations and interior/exterior isolations, procedures to account for all employees after an incident has occurred, procedures concerning rescue and medical duties assigned to employees such as ERT members and security personnel, the name/title/contact information of the individual or department in charge of the plan and safety areas of the company, alarm system use, training of the plan and safety procedures and reviewing of the plan when it is modified. Further information, procedures and policies should actively be added to an emergency action plan to better strengthen the plan and the safety system in place.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning: ICS and NIMS

ICS stands for Incident Command System which was developed in the 1970s as a response to significant failures in emergency management concerning wildfires in urban communities of the State of California. Many response and communication conflicts and challenges resulted in the loss of lives and significant property damage. ICS adapted to create a system that can be used for all types of hazards whether natural, man-made or technological and now the system is in common, and in many cases a requirement, use of public safety agencies and offices throughout the federal, state, tribal and local government, The private sector and even citizens can utilize ICS and use it to assist the Whole Community effort as well and the governments makes this specific task very easily accomplished, especially with the internet.

The mission of ICS is basically a coordinated effort to command an incident. There are several different components of a successful ICS that should be understood before making official use of the system. The ICS is a standardized system aiming to be used to meet the demands of small to large scale emergency and non-emergency incidents and events. The ICS is a standard to most emergency management systems and government agencies across the nation and is often recognized as the ‘best practices’ to be used during emergency and non-emergency events throughout the country. The ICS is best used for planned events such as fundraisers, fitness events, and fairs and related; natural disasters such as tornado emergencies, earthquakes and wildfires; man-made incidents including hazard material releases and train derailments; and acts of terrorism such as terrorist attacks, active shooter situations and biological incidents.

The ICS is also a key feature of the National Incident Command System also known widely as NIMS for short. NIMS is a comprehensive approach to incident management across all level of government, states and the private sector. While NIMS is a requirement of the government and most public sector entities, NIMS is optional but encouraged for use by the private sector. Again, the government makes establishing and using the NIMS system very easy for private sector entities and parties that are interested in utilizing the system. NIMS is intended to be applicable for all hazards no matter the type, size or scope of the incidents. NIMS improves coordination and cooperation between the private and the public sectors of the United States. Public sector include government agencies while private sector includes business and organizational entities. NIMS essentially provides a common standard for overall incident management throughout the nation and is being adopted by other counties as well.

It is suggested that companies and organizations learn ICS and NIMS and adopt such systems to be within official planning processes of the company or organization. This is because of how widely used these standards are. It is important to understand that the ICS and NIMS systems are required to be used and complied with by the public sector. This is important knowledge because the public sector use of these systems will void and override other systems put into place by the private sector if the public sector is assisting with the response efforts being made. The private sector would be better off adopting these system to successfully coordinate with public sector entities during a time of crisis. Other systems can and should be made for the private sector but these other system should comply with the standards of ICS and NIMS to prevent conflicts, coordination issues and failures in critical communications when the public and private sectors are attempting to work together before, during and after an incident has taken place.

 

The Tornado Emergency Planning Process and Project Management

While there are numerous types of assessment structures and templates that can be used in relation to tornado emergency planning for businesses and organizations, one in particular is provided to all companies at no cost. The federal government has released an assessment framework that is often used by many companies within the private sector. This framework is known as THIRA or Threat and Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment. THIRA is a four-part assessment system that helps entities to identify threats and hazards within their systems and assess the risks of such occurrences. The first step of the THIRA process is to identify the threats and hazards of concerns which would be a tornado emergency as well as related and cascading threats and hazards that would accompany it. The second step is to give context to the threats and hazards or otherwise explain what they are, what would happen and important information for planners to understand when developing the tornado emergency plan. The third step is to establish capability targets for your threats and hazards emphasizing on protection, prevention, mitigation, response and recovery phases. And finally, the fourth step is to apply the results of the assessment into the planning process and to acquire all of the needed resources, budgeting and personnel to effectively counter the risks that are present. THIRA is a workable assessment process, too, and it can be integrated with ease with most other assessment protocols founded by private sector entities.

The tornado emergency planning process requires a planning team. A planning team should consist of more than one person. Only one planner would present the risk of bias and opinion being implemented into the plan and many important factors might be left out. No one is a ‘jack of all trades’ either therefore it is important to include other subject matter experts into the tornado emergency planning process to make the plan efficient and successful in the end. The team should include many different people from many different aspects and disciplines. The continuity, emergency management, safety and security leaders should be added to the team. Department leaders should also be added, since each department will be unique and such leaders can provide reliable information concerning the specifics of the department. Other subject matter experts might include members of the local community’s public safety agencies, attorneys for the company and executives. The more subject matter experts present on the team, when done in a collaborative manner, the more stable the tornado emergency planning process will be.

The planning process itself consists of four important steps. The first step is to research and develop the plan which will consists of assessments being made, meetings and talk and the actual development and review of the plan. The second step will be to exercise the plan which will consist of the company, its employees, invited guests and other stakeholders actually practicing the plan with a scenario or a drill or something like that. Training and exercising is essential, without it, no experience can be gained at least until an actual incident happens which isn’t very efficient. The third step of the planning process includes implementing the plan or making it live and official. The plan should be shared with all employees and basic training should be conducted for new employees to get them familiar with the plan. It is essential that others know about the plan otherwise it will just be a useless document that no one knows about. The fourth step of the planning process is to update the plan which means that the plan will be modified based on lessons learned from exercises and actual incidents. The updating process never really stops. The plan will frequently be updated in order for it to be successful and always remain modern. The most important factor though will be the planning team involved in the tornado emergency planning process.

 

The Scenario: Success in Tornado Emergency Planning

The Stuff Manufacturing Incorporated factory (Stuff Inc.) is located in a rural area region within the southern Midwestern United States. Stuff Inc. is an assembly line based factory with three separate buildings on its property. About 60 workers are within each building on the property bringing the total number of workers on site at a time to 180 workers including administrative, management and hourly personnel. In addition, there are about 10 contractors on site including 2 contract security officers guarding the facilities, 4 custodians and 4 construction workers building a new office in Building-3 on the property. The shift is second shift. Most of the main administrative staff members have left for the day including the factory manager, human resources manager and the safety manager.

Stuff Inc. has complied with OSHA 1910.38 standard concerning emergency action planning. A team of workers in each of the three buildings are considered first responders with significant training, an emergency action plan has been created, and an in-house warning siren is installed and can be accessed by contract security personnel, management and ERT personnel and there are 3 designated tornado shelters in each of the three buildings. As far as other planning and training is concerned, Stuff Inc exercised tornado scenarios and has done significant planning for these types of incidents. Stuff Inc. has not experience any sort of major incident before besides a fire that could not be controlled by on-site emergency response personnel. The fire department was called and an incident command system was activated. There was a lot of communication issues between firefighter personnel and administrative personnel who insisted on going into the building where the fire was during fire-ground operations. Other than that, no significant incidents have occurred at Stuff Inc. Stuff, Inc has worked on its issues concerning communications and has done additional training in NIMS and ICS with its employees.

Earlier in the day, local meteorologists gave a weather report that conditions were favorable for tornado outbreak atmospheric elements. At about noon, a Tornado Watch was issued for the area by the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Dark clouds were approaching the area of the Stuff Inc. facility at around shift change into the second shift. Administrative personnel who were leaving for the day could easily observe that storm conditions were near. The safety manager told a security guard at the gate that the storms could get bad. The security officer said he would listen to the radio if it started to storm. The safety manager also informed the officer to keep management and ERT advised of all storm details. The conversation ended after that with the departure of the safety manager. The security officer notified the other roving officer of the situation and asked that he inform ERT members in person. The gate guard then called each building supervisor and informed them as to what was going on. The building supervisors would periodically call the gate guard and ask if there has been any recent updates.

At around 1600 hours, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning based on rotation being observed by Doppler radar systems. The warning was issued over the radio. The security officer heard the warning and called a supervisor from Building-1, Building-2 and Building-3 top inform them of the tornado warning that has been issued. All three building supervisors were informed as well as the additional roving security officer and ERT members. The gate guard then activated the facility-wide tornado warning siren and announced on the pager system that everyone needed to go to the storm shelters immediately. The supervisors and ERT members helped escort all employees to the storm shelter locations. The roving guard quickly made his way back to the gate to assist the gate guard in monitoring the weather.

At around 1610 hours, the tornado warning issued was updated to a tornado emergency situation. The radio reported the Skywarn storm spotters had observed a very large tornado on the ground doing a lot of residential damage in the area. The town of the factory was not mentioned in the report but its direction was. However, the guard on duty was new and not from the exact area and did not know that the factory was in the direct path of the storm. But the roving guard, who was also present, understood where the tornado was and the direction it was coming from. The guard then informed management members and ERT personnel that the tornado was nearing the facility. The ERT members informed sheltering employees to take cover, protecting their heads from the potential of falling and flying debris. At 1618 hours, the security guard stationed at the gate could observe the tornado coming directly at the facility. The guards then left the gate and took cover in the nearest storm shelter close to them while also brining a portable weather radio with them for updates on the storm.

Building-3 was significantly damaged but since all employees and guests were in the shelters, there were no serious injuries or deaths. Building-2 sustained minor damage with no injuries or death. Building-1 was not damaged significantly and no one was harmed in the event. The security officers were able to make it to the shelter in time and were not injured in the event. A supervisor from Building-1 notified the county 911 dispatch office that the Stuff Inc. industrial park had been hit by a tornado and help was needed, explaining as much detail as he could about what happened during the tornado incident.

Within minutes, a large amount of emergency personnel had arrived on scene including fire and EMS and law enforcement officers. The fire chief who arrived on site took the role of Incident Commander (IC) and activated the Incident Command System. The IC asked the Building-1 supervisor who was in charge, the supervisor explained their Incident Command System protocol and relieved command to the fire chief. The supervisor then contacted off-site safety and management officials and explained to them what was going on. The on-site emergency responders safely escorted employees out of the shelter and into the parking lots after the storm had passed. A full head count was completed and all associates and guests were accounted for. No search and rescue mission was required. The ERT members then coordinated with maintenance personnel to shut off gas and water lines that had been ruptured in different areas. With the assistance of the fire department, all lines were disabled and further hazards were dealt with.

Employees were ordered to remain in a staging area and told to inform their loved ones that they were all right with their cell phones. They were reminded of the policy on speaking with the media and posting information about the event on the internet. A fire emergency occurred on one of the damaged buildings, ERT and firefighter personnel quickly responded and put the fire out. Some chemicals were released due to the damage and that particular portion of the park was closed off after hazmat teams were informed of the description and dangers of the chemicals. As long as no one got the chemicals on them, closing off the area was enough until the chemicals could be sprayed clean. A management official arrived soon after and assisted with public relations and dealing with the media.

Short-term recovery was successful and all three facilities were opened soon after the incident even though building-3 was temporary moved into emptier spaces in building 1 and 2 until it could be rebuilt for production use. The company also invested in services to employees were had a hard time coping with the disaster, awarded security and ERT members for their courage and bravery and provided additional resources and funding to the community to help out with the overall regional recovery process. The lessons learned from this incident was then incorporated into the tornado planning process.

 

Tornado Emergency Planning Conclusion and Further Notes

The second version of the scenario directly above is basically what might happen if the Stuff, Inc. Company was actually prepared for a tornado emergency event. Planning is a significant function in emergency and incident management. It is important that private sector entities understand that disasters do happen and that the government isn’t providing the means to avoid risk, injuries and loss to profits – that sort of assumption is completely impossible. Emergency management is a Whole Community effort where everyone has to be involved in the process. You are encouraged to research further into this topic to maximize your knowledge about these issues and types of incidents.

Thank you for reading my article concerning the tornado emergency planning process. Please note that developing this article took more than a week as it is over 10,000 words long. With that being said, please share this article with others and on social media to help support me for writing it. This article was an experiment – if you enjoyed it and want to see more article like this one, please let me know. This article was written by Shawn J. Gossman, a professional of Emergency Management and Organizational Continuity.

About the Author

Shawn J. Gossman
Shawn J. GossmanB.S., M.S., M.B.A., SEM, PDS
Shawn J. Gossman is an article and publication contributor of rural and remote-based emergency management, continuity and public health topics. Shawn holds a Master of Science concentrating in Emergency Management and a MBA in Hazardous Environment Logistics and Supply Chain Management. Shawn is dedicated to helping rural communities and organizations be a part of the Whole Community approach of National Preparedness.