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Tornado safety tips: Before, during and after the storm
Mar 24, 2020

Zurich offers tornado safety procedures to help businesses survive the force of a tornado by minimizing injuries, property damage and business losses.

Tornadoes are among the most destructive, fearsome and potentially deadly natural hazards. While most tornadoes do not strike major population centers, when they do, they can cause major damage and sometimes total destruction of businesses, homes and whole communities.

The number of confirmed tornadoes in the United States can vary widely from year to year, but on average tornadoes are increasing in frequency. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in 2004 there were 1,813 confirmed tornadoes, the most ever. As recently as 2014, there were just 886 confirmed tornadoes, but we reached 1,276 tornadoes in 2019.

Interesting facts about tornadoes

  • Tornadoes are often unpredictable, but here are some facts to help you understand if you’re at risk.1 Frequent thunderstorms – spawned by collisions of warm, wet air masses with cool, dry ones – create a fertile breeding ground for tornadoes.
  • The peak time of day for tornado formation is between 3-9 p.m.
  • Tornadoes occur mostly during late summer afternoons or evenings.
  • Tornadoes form at almost any time of year if conditions are right, and quickly with little or no warning.
  • Tornadoes can generate wind speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
  • They can create damage up to one mile in width and up to 50 miles in length.
  • Injuries and deaths related to tornadoes are caused primarily from flying debris from structural damage.
  • Tornadoes become visible only when dust, debris and water droplets from the parent thunderstorm are sucked into the vortex.
  • Of the more than 1,200 tornadoes that touch down in the U.S. every year (on average), truly violent ones account for only 2% of the total. However, they cause 70% of all tornado deaths.2 As a rule, every warning of an impending tornado should be treated with the same life-or-death urgency.

How to prepare your business for a tornado

Developing a plan to protect your people and property can help everyone stay safe in the event of a tornado.

Map out a tornado preparedness strategy

  • Identify the safest areas in a building so your people know where to congregate in the event of a warning.
  • Identify tornado wardens and practice your sheltering plan.
  • Post signs in buildings to direct employees, customers and visitors to safe areas.

Take steps to minimize property damage

  • Secure outdoor gear and outbuildings (barns, sheds, garages, etc.) so they don’t become airborne missiles.
  • Reinforce garage doors and roof strapping.
  • Place computer servers and vital equipment in tornado-resistant areas of the building.
  • Determine how and where employees will work in the event of significant damage.
  • Plan for continued manufacturing or other critical business operations if buildings are damaged.
  • Consider potential supply chain interruptions.

Stock up on emergency supplies

  • Maintain an ample supply of flashlights, batteries and first-aid kits.
  • Install a backup generator in case your facility loses power in the storm.

What to do during a tornado

Take shelter

  • When advised to take shelter, move quickly to the safest areas, as those outside could be exposed to wind-driven debris.

Stay safe inside the building

  • Move to either a tornado shelter or the lowest part of the building, such as a basement or an internal hallway.
  • Stay away from windows and doors.
  • If possible, people should seek cover beneath a table, desk or any sturdy furniture.

What to do after a tornado

Watch for the hazards left behind after a tornado has affected your business.

Communicate with staff

  • A survival plan should include protocols for employees to communicate location, conditions and well-being in the aftermath of a storm.
  • Handheld “walkie-talkies” can act as a backup when cellular networks are down.

Use caution inside and outside your building

  • Be aware of leaking gas or flammable liquids.
  • If trapped inside a building, remain calm and seek help by calling or banging on a wall or exposed pipe.
  • During cleanup after the storm, be aware of exposed wires, sharp edges and dangerous debris.

Building a tornado shelter or safe room

There are three principal approaches to the design and installation of tornado-safe rooms:

  • Underground shelters – An underground shelter may be constructed from reinforced steel or concrete and is typically installed near a structure.
  • Shelters built into the facility – If ground conditions such as high local water tables or the likelihood of flooding preclude underground shelters, a suitable alternative can be the incorporation of a safe room inside a facility during initial construction or renovation.
  • Pre-built shelters – If the first two options are impractical, manufacturers of pre-built shelters can provide installations made from sturdy steel frames and panels that can be retrofitted into existing structures.

No matter how potentially devastating a tornado may be, proper planning, preparation, practice and proactive steps to reduce and limit damage can help businesses survive and become more resilient against the implacable, elemental force of these storms. With concerted action, including well-constructed tornado shelters and safe rooms, serious injury and death can be prevented.

Tornado insurance solutions

Most property insurance policies provide insurance protection for tornado damage to both business and personal property. These policies also may cover costs to remove, clean up and dispose of debris after a tornado. Companies should consider time-element coverages, especially Business Interruption and Extra Expense insurance, which cover lost business profits and the additional expenses to keep a business running while insured property is being restored or replaced.

Even if a company is not damaged by a tornado, its business still may be disrupted if suppliers are damaged and unable to deliver goods to the company, or customers are damaged and are unable to receive goods. Contingent Business Interruption coverage can provide insurance protection for this scenario. Companies should work closely with their brokers to identify their tornado-related exposures and to assure they have enough of the right coverages.

Contact your insurance provider for more information on weather-related insurance.

Download our white paper on tornado safety preparation for more information.

1. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Storm Prediction Center. Enhanced F Scale for Tornado Damage. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
2. Weather Almanac, Vol. 1: Tornadoes. Weather Explained. Retrieved 11 March 2020.