Learning From Past Tornadoes

In Cleveland, OH it is planned for new and improved tornado warnings to be implemented this April so more people will know when to react to storm warnings and potentially save their lives.  Effective warning systems are great ways to prepare communities for the potential disasters tornadoes often bring with them.

New tornado warning system could reduce your risk and save your life

By Mark Johnson, newsnet5.com

CLEVELAND – New enhanced tornado warnings are slated to begin in April to help provide more specific information during severe weather.

The year 2011 proved to be a very deadly one for tornadoes. Last year, in April alone, more than 300 people lost their lives when swarms of tornadoes tore through Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

But the carnage didn’t stop there. On May 22, one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 159 people and injuring more than 1,000. This was the single deadliest tornado to hit the United States since 1953, when a twister killed 116 people in Flint, Michigan. The tornado was rated an EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, with winds more than 200 mph. Residents of this southwest Missouri town had several minutes of advanced warning that the twister was coming. Warning sirens blared through out the town. But, as later studies showed, many did not react immediately to the warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

A National Weather Service (NWS) investigation found that a large majority of Joplin residents did not immediately head for safety when the warning was first issued. They didn’t heed the warnings. Investigators, instead, found that most chose to look for further information or confirmation before assessing the storm risk. In other words, most Joplin residents had to confirm through additional information if there was indeed a tornado heading their way.

So, what caused this hesitancy? It’s all about human nature. If you’ve lived through many false alarms, then you are less likely to respond immediately to the latest severe weather warning.

“Responding to warnings is not a simple act of stimulus-response,” said the report. “Rather it is a non-linear, multi-step, complex process. Relationships between false alarms, public complacency and warning credibility are highly complex as well.”

The assessment team interviewed dozens of survivors, as well as media members, emergency managers, and city officials. There were many different reasons for not heading the tornado warning that day, but most boiled down to that person’s previous experiences with severe weather. For Joplin residents, they had heard the warnings sirens so often, they stopped taking it seriously.

“This suggests that initial siren activations in Joplin (and severe weather warnings in general) have lost a degree of credibility for most residents — one of the most valued characteristics for successful risk communication,” said the report.

Instead, the majority of Joplin residents waited for confirmation of the tornado from a different source. Some of them saw the twister and ran for cover. Others, needed confirmation from radio or television reports.

Now, the National Weather Service is taking action to improve severe weather warnings by providing better information in the initial issuance. This new experimental tornado warning system will be “impact-based.” That means, especially during extreme tornado events, it will provide more specific information, so local residents will better understand the threat that is coming.

Here are the goals:

– Provide a non-routine warning mechanism that prompts people to take immediate life-saving action in extreme events like strong and violent tornadoes.
– Be impact-based more than phenomenon-based for clarity on risk assessment.
– Be compatible with NWS technological, scientific and operational capabilities.
– Be compatible with external local warning systems and emerging mobile communications technology.
– Be easily understood and calibrated by the public to facilitate decision making.
– Maintain existing “probability of detection” for severe weather events.
– Diminish the perception of false alarms and their impacts on credibility.

So, here’s a look at the new system that will be launched in several regions this April:

1) Standard Tornado Warning: These warnings are the basic ones issued by the National Weather Service when radial velocities on radar indicate a possible tornado. Most of the time, these are the basic warnings issued by all offices across the United States.

2) Potentially Dangerous Situation (PDS) Tornado Warning: If a PDS Tornado Warning is issued, then it means that the storm has a tornado on the ground that was spotted by a storm chaser or the public. These warnings are the second highest level that the NWS will issue.

3) Tornado Emergency: In a tornado emergency, a large tornado is on the ground producing a lot of damage and is headed towards a populated city. Tornado emergencies were issued back on April 27, 2011 when a supercell thunderstorm was pushing into Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A tornado emergency is the highest level of emergency on this scale.

The warnings above will now include more specific tags to communicate the seriousness of the threat. For instance, the warning will now include an indication whether the tornado is radar-indicated or observed on the ground. An additional line will expand

on the tornado threat. The tornado threat will be significant if there is credible evidence that a tornado, capable of producing significant damage, is confirmed on the ground. The tornado threat will be catastrophic if there is a severe threat to human life and when catastrophic damage from a tornado is occurring. This type of statement will only be used when credible sources confirm a violent tornado in progress.

NWS Officials hope this more-specific information provided initially will motivate residents to act immediately, instead of waiting and risking injury or death.

This new warning system will be launched on an experimental basis in St. Louis, Kansas City, Topeka, Wichita, and Springfield, Mo. If the system proves effective, it will be expanded nation-wide in the coming years.


Community Preparedness

Community preparedness is what Recovers.org is all about! As the following article states, residents of Santa Barbara, CA are being trained to respond in the case of disasters such as tornadoes; a great way to be prepared!

Community Emergency Response Training

Monday, March 26, 2012
By City of Santa Barbara

Disasters can severely restrict and overwhelm emergency response resources, communications, transportation and utilities and can leave individuals and entire neighborhoods cut off from outside emergency support. The City is offering CERT courses to train people to take care of themselves and then to help others in their communities for the first three days following a disaster. The purpose of CERT training is to provide citizens with the basic skills required to handle virtually all of their own needs and then to be able to respond to their communities’ needs in the aftermath of a disaster.

The CERT course consists of 25 hours of training, and will be conducted at Santa Barbara City Fire Station 1, 121 W. Carrillo Street. The classes are Thursday evenings from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, April 5th through May 17th, 2012. The course will end with a disaster exercise on Saturday May 19, 2012, where the class will utilize the skills they’ve learned in the program.

The course agenda includes disaster preparedness, fire safety and suppression, disaster medical operations-assessment and treatment, light search and rescue operations, CERT organization, disaster psychology and terrorism overview. The course is as much hands on as it is classroom so the participants are kept active and interested.

Anyone interested in participating in this training should call the City’s Office of Emergency Services at (805) 564-5711or e-mail Yolanda McGlinchey, Emergency Services Manager, at ymcglinchey@santabarbaraca.gov for a registration form and informational flyer. Applications and class flyer can also be downloaded at www.santabarbaraca.gov/oes.


Found: http://www.independent.com/news/2012/mar/26/community-emergency-response-training/?on


Helping with Clay’s recovery effort

Caitria from Recovers.org received a mention regarding the tornado recovery effort in Clay, Alabama.  Glad to be among so many people who came from all over to help in the recovery effort as well.

Who Did What in the First Three Weeks of Clay’s Tornado Recovery Effort
Mayor and City Council:
Mayor Ed McGuffie met with federal, state and county officials in coordinating efforts with them and getting
them to help with needs. He oversaw all discussions and meetings concerning the recovery effort.
Councilman L.B. Feemster oversaw the volunteer, donation and food command center, coordinating the efforts
of the non-profit organizations that assisted with the effort.
Councilwoman Becky Johnson helped answer the phone at City Hall and helped with walk ins. She took over
Facebook postings after three weeks. She also helped the Donations Relief Center after it moved to
City Hall.
Councilman Charles Webster helped with donation collections and food at Clearview Baptist Church.
Councilwoman Jackie Hambrick worked on the first morning, helping to direct volunteers at the command
Councilman Kevin Small volunteered on the weekends with clean up in the disaster areas.
City Employees:
City Clerk Bobby Christmas was responsible for information to the news media. He spent most of his time with
Mayor Ed McGuffie, attending meetings with federal, state and county officials. He helped to make sure
decisions were carried out and communicated to the needed parties.
Assistant Clerk Andrea Self helped at the Command Center on the first day, creating database of volunteers
with their contact information and skills. On second day forward, she handled phone calls and assisted
with business license applications at City Hall.
Senior Activity Center Director Linda Love coordinated the donations and distribution of relief supplies starting
from the day after the tornado.
Building Inspector and Public Works Director Lynn Burch oversaw the public works efforts, which included
clearing the roads on the first day and handling the increase in building inspections, debris removal.
Also, he patrolled in the disaster areas, making sure contractors had business licenses and permits.
Code Enforcement Officer Don Isbell worked in the field doing construction inspections.
Bookkeeper / Revenue Clerk Susan Nelson stayed at City Hall handling phone calls, business license applications
and helped with communication.
Public Works Supervisor Ron McGuffie oversaw his department’s work of road clearing, debris removal and
burning and making sure all businesses in the disaster area had a business license.
Contract Deputy Terry Scott made sure law enforcement at the disaster areas carried out the desire of the city
as to who should have access and under what circumstances.
Contract Help:
Tina Tidmore managed the city of Clay Facebook page during first three weeks and kept the city website up to
Don Sing took photos of city employees, volunteers and damage.
Hoyt Sanders and city of Leeds building inspector assisted in building inspections.
State and County Officials:
County Commissioner Joe Knight helped cut trees and preparing City Hall as the Donations Relief Center.
He also helped in arranging outside sources for tarps and other supplies.
State Senator Slade Blackwell helped in cutting trees.
Long-term Volunteers:
Carol Foster helped at City Hall, answering phones and assisting walk-ins.
Donna McGuffie helped at City Hall, answering phones and assisting walk-ins.
Lynn Christmas helped at City Hall, answering phones, paper work and assisting walk-ins in the afternoons.
Lisa Halstead assisted with administrative duties at City Hall for a couple of days.
John Tolar helped enter volunteers into the database and helped manage the Clay Recovers website, which
allowed churches to coordinate their efforts. On February 1, John was added as administrator to the city
of Clay Facebook page to post on matters related to volunteers, food and donations. He also worked to
create a video of the tornado damage and recovery.
Sherri Hood organized food for workers and victims and worked to take food into the disaster areas.
Mike Jenne helped to organize volunteers the first two days after the tornado.
Pat Feemster answered the phone at the Clay Recovery Command Center at Clay United Methodist Church.
She also assisted people coming to the center and created informational documents.
Gail Kohser assisted in setting up and manning the Donations Relief Center at City Hall.
Sheila Gray assisted in entering information in the volunteer database.
Mark Halstead assisted in making sure contractors had licenses and building permits.
Dean Self helped organize the churches and make sure people aren’t taking advantage of the donated supplies.
Buddy Williams helped to organize the volunteer workers and match them with the work orders from the disaster
Marie Gilreath entered the volunteer work hours into the database and assisted victims with getting donated
Caitria O’Neill flew in from Boston and helped with input into the database and set up the Clay Recovers website
where churches could communicate with each other on needs and survivors could remotely ask for
Many other volunteers came day after day helping in food service and donations receiving and distribution at the
local churches.
Many people came from all over the country and spent a few days helping with clean up in the disaster area.
Additionally, the city of Clay benefited from the services of many non-profit organizations and volunteers from surrounding
communities and across the whole country. Below is a map of where these volunteers traveled from to help
in the tornado recovery.

MIT Public Service Center – feature article

We are pleased to announce that Recovers.org was featured in MIT Ideas Global Challenge Notebook. The article is posted below:

49 teams are signed up to enter this year’s IDEAS Global Challenge. Nick Holden, helping with his knack for writing and interviewing has created a series of profiles on teams.

Last week, he profiled Team Recovers.org who are working to finesse a tool to harness and deploy the power of people’s help after a disaster. I included a snippet of the profile below. You can read the entire profile through this link.

Q. What’s innovative about the solution you are proposing to make an impact on disaster recovery?

A. There’s this huge spike in interest after a disaster. Fifty percent of all web searches seeking to help occur in the first seven days after a disaster.

An affected town loses the potential resources it could get from the initial spike in interest because it doesn’t have the capacity to accept the physical or financial resources. Without the proper technology in place, towns can’t capitalize on that early interest, and they are left without a platform to build more interest and no money for recovery.

Every single community that is affected by a disaster is affected by this technological black hole. For example, FEMA makes aid distribution based upon data it receives from communities after a disaster. That data includes how many volunteers worked, where they worked, for how many hours they worked, and what heavy machinery they used. In the first two weeks after a disaster, towns don’t even know that data needs to be tracked, and they don’t have tools to track it.

We’re disaster experts now because we’ve done this before. What we can do is structure the inputs with really easy-to-use software. We can make a button that says: “Where are you sending this volunteer?” Then we give coordinators this software that allows them to track volunteers. Now, FEMA gets their data, and the town gets more money because of it.

We started going into disaster areas as part of our development. Chris [Kuryak] and I just got back from Alabama. In the course of three-and-a-half days, we were able to set up an online recovery hub for a city that was ravaged by tornadoes on Jan. 24.

Using our website, the community has already flagged tons of cases of fraud attempts — of people going to multiple distribution centers. They’ve collected a massive database of donation items, especially things that are too large for people to bring in and store, but that are going to be needed six months to five years down the road, like china cabinets for people who are rebuilding their homes. It was pretty phenomenal proof-of-concept.

– – – – – –
Keep reading over at the MIT News site.

A feature in the Western Massachusetts Medical Reserve Corps Newsletter

Great News!

It is with personal pride and gratitude that I share this article from the MIT news office. Morgan and Catria O’Neill of Monson, Massachusetts whose family home was severely damaged in the tornadoes of June 1, 2011, have taken the organic database that they developed in the midst of the recovery efforts to the level of software that might be useful in all hazards recovery and mitigation. They have entered the MIT IDEAS Global Challenges competition with the model (software and support solutoins) that they developed to capture the goodwill of spontaneous volunteers following a disaster.

Here is an excerpt from the MIT article:

“Q. Why did your team choose to address the issue of disaster relief?

A. After I graduated from Harvard College in May, I moved all of my things home, and the afternoon I put my boxes in the attic, the roof came off. There was a tornado, and my sister Morgan and I ended up running the local grassroots response in Monson, Mass.

We showed up at the de facto organizing center in Monson on day two. There was an old woman sitting at the front desk writing people’s names down as they came in and telling them to go home. There were a whole bunch of very large, very frustrated men holding chainsaws saying, “There are trees down everywhere. Tell me where I’m needed.”

Morgan and I built a pretty phenomenal system to manage these volunteers and realized, in the course of 17-hour days, that there has to be an easier way to do this. We reached out to other disaster organizers, and we found that no one had actually put the work that’s done on index cards into software form yet.” -Catria O’Neill

These brilliant ladies seized a catastrophic event and transformed it into a functional asset to assist others in times of emergencies or disasters. This deserves headline status!


— Kathleen Conley Norbut, M.Ed., LMHC
Coordinator, MRC Western MA