Storm season is here; be prepared

STILLWATER — Now that tornado season has arrived, Oklahomans need to know what to do at all times in the event of a weather emergency. Many people may not realize the safety precautions they need to take if they are at work, shopping at the local mall, participating in outdoor activities, attending a sporting event, camping or other event away from their home.Gina Peek, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist, said it is imperative to know what to do in the event of a tornado when you are away from home and away from your usual sources of weather information.“If you are in a public building such as a mall, restaurant, grocery store or convenience store, the same basic tornado safety guidelines apply — get in, get down, cover up,” she said. “Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. If the building you’re in doesn’t have a basement, get as low as possible. Use whatever you can find to protect your head and body from flying debris.”Schools across the state have plans in place in the event of a tornado. Most of these plans include moving the student to the interior of the school, away from outside walls and windows, including locations such as hallways, interior classrooms or interior restrooms. Students will most likely be told to crouch down and cover their head with their hands.“Now that we are getting into tornado season, check with your child’s school to see how often they will practice tornado drills,” she said.If you are staying in a hotel, get to the lowest level possible. Some establishments may suggest guests seek shelter in the hallways. Keep in mind, however, you need to avoid hallways that have doors and/or windows on either end. These areas can become wind tunnels that send debris flying down the corridor.“Your best bet is an interior bathroom or closet near the center of the hotel. Grab some pillows or blankets if possible and use them to cover up while you take shelter,” Peek said.Camping, going to a fair or festival or going to an outdoor sporting event are great ways to spend time outside. However, being outdoors is not where you want to be in the event of a tornado. Unless there are structures nearby, there is little to protect you from fierce winds and flying debris.If you are in an RV park, make note of any nearby shelters that could be used during a storm. Check with the park ranger or campground owner to see if there are nearby shelters available.Peek said if you are caught outside with no buildings available, the best option is to find the lowest spot in the ground, lie flat and cover your head with your hands.Organized outdoor events, including sporting events, should have a weather safety plan in place. It can be difficult to move a large number of people to shelter at a big outdoor event, so pay close attention to all severe weather information as it is conveyed and follow the instructions of those in charge.“Tornado season will last for several months. It’s vital to be aware of your surroundings and know where to take cover when you’re away from home,” she said. “It can be a matter of life or death.”