Workplace Tornado Planning

Date Posted
George Davis

At least 24 people — including nine children — were killed when a massive tornado struck an area outside Oklahoma City on Monday afternoon.

Unfortunately the tornado that stuck Oklahoma City was not an isolated incident. Every year more than 800 tornadoes are reported across the nation, with wind speeds of up to 250 mph.

This article is designed to provide you with some basic information to help recognize the signs of a tornado and develop a tornado response plan

Recognize the signs

Tornadoes can appear and disappear rapidly, so it is important to be familiar with the signs in order to stay prepared.

These signs include monitoring the local weather stations to alert you to possible tornado conditions, being aware of tornado alarms used in areas you are working and recognizing the environmental signs of a tornado.

Environmental signs of a tornado include:

  • Dark, often greenish clouds or sky
  • Wall cloud
  • Large hail
  • Funnel cloud
  • Roaring noise


The best way to ensure you are ready for a tornado is to have an emergency action plan. When dealing with a tornado this plan should identify a place to take shelter, how community tornado warning systems will be monitored and how to account for all people during a tornado.

Identify Shelter

During a tornado the best shelter is an underground area, such as a basement or a cellar. However, if this type of structure is not available consider:

  • A small interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible
  • A room constructed with reinforced concrete
  • A room or area with a reinforced ceiling

When selecting a shelter ensure it has no windows if possible, avoid structures with flat, wide-span roofs and try to stay in the center of the room. Ensure the shelter location is stocked with adequate emergency supplies.

If caught outdoors away from a designated shelter try to get to a suitable shelter as quickly as possible. If this is not possible here are two options:

  • Stay in the vehicle with the seat belt on, keeping your head below the windows and covering it with your hands or a blanket.
  • Get to an area noticeable lower than the roadway, lie in that area and cover your head with your hands.


The following steps are recommended to help ensure the safety of personnel if a tornado occurs:

  • Develop a system for knowing who is in the building in the event of an emergency
  • Establish an alarm system to warn workers and test the system frequently. If you have workers who do not speak English ensure this information is communicated clearly to them.
  • Account for workers, visitors, and customers as they arrive in the shelter. One way to do this is to develop a check sheet from a prepared roster or schedule.
  • Assign specific duties to workers in advance; create checklists for each specific responsibility. Designate and train employee alternates in case the assigned person is not there or is injured.

This plan should be reviewed with employees on an annual basis and updated whenever a change occurs within your company.

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