Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

123,461 subscribers and counting ...

By in
Earth on Mar 25, 2013

Businesses, retail stores and families: Prepare for tornado season

If you manage (or work at, or shop at) a local restaurant, gas station or retail store, what would you do if a tornado were headed your way?

Spring has come to the Northern Hemisphere, and along with it the threat for severe weather across the United States. During the National Weather Service severe weather awareness week earlier this month, local weather authorities discussed weather hazards that can occur in their region and were responsible for having an annual tornado drill for the week. At schools and colleges everywhere, these drills helped educate the students on where to go if a tornado warning is issued. But what about other organizations, such as businesses and retail stories? In this post, I discuss the importance for everyone to practice tornado drill procedures. For example, if you manage (or work at, or shop at) a local restaurant, gas station or retail store, what would you do if a tornado were headed your way? Planning ahead will guarantee less confusion and could save lives.

Powerful tornado struck a mall near a Walmart in Harrisburg, Illinois in early March 2012. Image Credit: Patty Y 1000 via Flickr

Check out this video of a tornado striking a Lowe’s in North Carolina on April 16, 2011. Although events like this are rare, they can and do occur. The biggest question to ask yourself is whether or not you know what to do in an event such as the one shown below.

If you work in the retail business, then you already know everything about customer service and always putting the customer first. You are likely trained for that particular position in the store, but when it comes to tornado safety, stores are very unlikely going to teach you about the procedures that should take place when a tornado warning is issued. While some bigger retail stores, such as Walmart, employ a system of codes to notify their stores of impending danger, many of the smaller stores have no system. I will not disclose the names of any particular stores, but I would say a high percentage of the basic employees (not a department manager/owner) who work at retail stores probably have no idea what the proper safety procedures are when a tornado warning has been issued. Thus there’s a high potential for confusion if severe weather strikes. The alternative is for store managers to schedule tornado drills, so that their employees and customers know what to do in case a tornado strikes the store. If employees and customers cannot physically practice a drill, manager or owner can at least think about, design a strategy and post the proper procedures in case of an emergency.

Here is a list of things you should do if you are out shopping at a retail store, when severe weather is approaching:

1) Do not leave the store. Driving into a severe thunderstorm with a possible tornado on the ground is the last thing you want to do!

2) Stay away from the front of the store! Most retail stores have a lot of glass in the front entrance. You will need to avoid the front end as much as possible as flying glass can injure and possible kill someone.

3) Consider positioning yourself in the center of the store. Try to avoid isles that contain heavy or sharp objects that could be picked up and become flying debris.

4) Stores will have bathrooms, and if you are near one, you should take shelter there.

What you can do for your family:

Tornado in Dimmitt, Texas on June 2, 1995. Image Credit: NOAA Photo Library

One evening, sit the family down and discuss what would happen if a tornado came towards your location. Figure out together what you should do if you are eating at a restaurant, shopping at a shoe store, buying snacks at a local gas station, or buying toiletry items at a large retail store. Find out where you would go if you were caught in this particular situation. If you do not know, consider asking store managers about their safety procedures. That way, you not only get good information, and think about situations in advance, but you also let local store managers know this topic is of interest. The idea is to save lives. If you can practice now, the likihood of staying safe increases greatly.

Bottom line: Schools are typically the only institutions that practice tornado drills. But businesses and stores can and should discuss safety procedures, too. Although many businesses will never practice an actual tornado drill, store managers can at least tell their employees what to do in case a tornado is approaching. Doing this increases chances for well-being and safety for all. Most tornadoes are not strong (EF-3 or greater), and many (although not all) people do survive a direct hit. However, knowing where to be and what to do could save your life. Discuss tornado safety with your kids, family, and friends on what you should do if a tornado strikes your home, a business, store, or restaurant. The way I see it: It never hurts to be prepared!

Everything you need to know: Tornado safety