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Protecting People and Property in Tornado Zones

Tornado Zones

Lenora Carpenter, a senior executive with a property investment and management firm, offers some important tips on preparing for — and staying safe — during a tornado.

Tornadoes — they’re not just in Kansas anymore. These destructive wonders of nature are making their mark in all different regions of the country as a result of climate change.

Lenora Carpenter says that most of the properties she oversees are located in hotbeds for tornadoes, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Summer is the peak season for these storms, although recently “it’s been more year-round because of the warmer weather — even in the wintertime,” says Carpenter, executive vice president of Block Multifamily Group in Kansas City, Missouri. This means that property managers have to stay vigilant about tornado watches and warnings during all seasons.

Tornadoes are occurring more often, and sightings have expanded to other areas of the country. “You see them coming up in Tennessee and different states. They’re not just in the central alley of the country anymore,” says Carpenter.

As someone who has seen her share of storms and tornado watches, Carpenter has advice for both property managers and residents about protecting their assets and staying safe during a tornado.

For property managers:

Get insured. A tornado may not always blow a building down, but often storms cause hail damage or flooding. Make sure your property insurance covers for this type of damage.

Do storm prep work. Trim tree branches away from apartment roofs or large windows, as fallen limbs and broken tree branches can do a substantial amount of damage to roofs, windows and exteriors.

Build a storm shelter. These facilities are becoming more common in apartment communities. Having a storm shelter, especially in parts of the country where tornadoes are common, makes a property more attractive to prospective residents. One helpful feature is to have a key fob system. When a tornado threatens, a resident can grab the key fob to access the storm shelter without wasting valuable time trying to find the right key.

Storm shelters usually include a bathroom and open space. They often have a ladder that leads to a first floor or ground-level space that marks where local authorities can find the shelter. In the event a tornado decimates a building, firefighters or other first responders can find this marked area and release the hatch so that people can escape the shelter.

Carpenter says she encourages people to bring pets to a storm shelter, but not to spend a large amount of time retrieving them. “We do want the residents to be safe first, although we do know that pets are like family,” she says.

If you don’t have a shelter… In tornado-prone areas, apartments with interior hallways offer more safe places for people to seek shelter during a tornado than ones with exterior hallways or stairs. Ideally, a building in a tornado zone has a mid-rise format with an underground garage or basement. “If, for some reason, your community doesn’t have a storm shelter, you definitely want to let your residents know that they should go to the lowest and most central areas of the building,” Carpenter advises.

Keep residents informed. Post emergency information on your apartment community’s website, resident portal and on posters in the apartment’s common areas. Make sure that residents have this information when they move in. Tours with prospective or new residents should cover areas where they could go in case of an emergency.

For residents:

Get insurance. Purchase renters insurance that covers for fire or flooding events to protect your personal belongings. Videotape your belongings or keep an inventory checklist that includes serial numbers to provide to your insurance company.

Assemble an emergency supply kit. This might include a battery-powered radio, flashlight, water, nonperishable foods, medications, signal flares, clothes and a back-up battery charger for your phone that doesn’t rely on electricity.

Have an emergency plan. Identify evacuation routes and the best shelter locations in and around the apartment. Everyone should know where the emergency supply kit is kept. Get to know your neighbors so you can look out for one another in case of emergency. Find out who has the safest shelter locations, who owns supplies like a backup generator, and whether someone has medical expertise.

Know where to seek shelter. If an apartment doesn’t have a storm shelter, seek areas in the building with interior rooms without windows such as a closet, bathroom or even an interior hallway. Once in place, kneel and cover the back of your head with your hands. Most tornado fatalities occur from flying or falling debris, so you should also protect yourself with thick padding like blankets or a mattress.

Whether it’s a tornado, a hurricane or some other natural disaster, apartment dwellers should have a plan for every contingency, Carpenter says.

NAA’s Emergency and Disaster Library offers useful information on how to prepare for tornadoes, hurricanes and other disaster, health and biohazard events. Another important source is the American Red Cross, which advises people to tune in to local news or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio during a storm for weather updates. Some communities have outdoor warning systems like sirens to alert people about severe weather, including tornadoes.