published Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Inside Insurance: Lessons learned about tornado safety

By David Colmans
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    A cross stands atop a church that was severely damaged by a tornado in Joplin, Mo., as a severe storm passes overhead Monday. A large tornado moved through much of the city Sunday, damaging a hospital, hundreds of homes and businesses and killing at least 89 people. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

There is no doubt this has been an exceptionally destructive year for tornadoes. As of Sept. 21, there were 1,803 tornadoes reported in the US of which at least 1,276 were confirmed.

A May, 2011 tornado in Joplin, Missouri and surrounding areas caused 151 fatalities, the deadliest since modern recordkeeping began in 1950, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In Alabama, at least 247 people died as a result of a tornado outbreak, making it one of the deadliest disasters in state history.

While there is little one can do when an F4 or F5 tornado hits a residential structure where people are inside, the findings of studies done by weather experts, emergency management agencies and others tell us that if these people had had the ability to receive and paid heed to the warnings, these deaths may have been prevented.

What do many families do when severe weather gets close? Many of us tend to turn on our televisions to watch the local weather personalities give up-to-the-minute radar notifications of where the storms are.

On the one hand, TV and radio news is very helpful…until the power goes out.

Consider This: Radios used during severe weather should be battery-powered, not plugged in to a wall socket. TVs are more problematic. This is the time to have at least one small, hand-cranked TV that does not depend on electrical outlets. Both hand-crank radios and TVs are widely available and well worth purchasing.

The importance of a National Weather Service weather alert radio cannot be overstated. These radios typically are plug-in, but they also have battery-back-ups built-in.

To be really storm-ready, if you own a generator, it is a good idea to plug in key electronics before the power goes out to avoid a total blackout.

In certain situations last spring, even weather alert radios in some areas went down because critical phone lines were severed to the transmitters. That is why broadcast radio and television are important along with weather alert radio as long as there is a battery, generator or hand-crank power involved.

Consider This: There are always a few individuals who say they did not pay attention to weather messages due to the large number of false alarms over the months and years. Caution. It only takes one real deal to make all the difference. Weather alerts tend to be based on a county, and a tornado at the northern portion of a county likely will have no affect on the southern portion of the county. That’s why both broadcast media and weather radios are effective together.

One last concern is our inquisitive nature to go outside and try to see if a tornado is really close by. Researchers note that some fatalities occurred for just this reason.

Consider This: Tornadoes often are hidden in heavy rainstorms and usually are not easily seen. Always consider safety first. Protect yourself and your family should always be the first priority.

David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by email at

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