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During the Disaster

Being prepared for disaster situations, actually starts with knowing what disasters might happen in your area, and what to expect for each situation. This section goes over our most common hazards, and explains what to expect, and what you need to know. 


Tornadoes and Violent Thunderstorms

Funnel Cloud

Warm and rapidly-changing weather patterns make Middle Tennessee ideal for tornadoes and violent thunderstorms.

Dangers associated with thunderstorms can include dangerous lightening, strong winds, hail and flash flooding. While lightning continues to be one of the top three storm related killers in the US, flash flooding is responsible for more fatalities than any other thunderstorm associated hazard.

If thunderstorms are happening in your area, you should:

  • Keep informed on the weather; use your battery operated NOAA weather radio for updates
  • Avoid contact with corded phones and devices that are plugged in. Unplug computers as power surges from lightning can cause serious damage
  • Avoid taking a shower during severe thunderstorms
  • Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches
  • Avoid being under isolated trees, open fields, hilltops or boats on the water
  • Take shelter in a sturdy building
  • Use extreme caution while driving
  • Remember the 30/30 lightning rule: go indoors if, after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing the last clap of thunder

Tornadoes are spawned from powerful thunderstorms, and cause fatalities and devastate neighborhoods in seconds. Tornadoes are rotating, funnel shaped clouds that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground, and generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. Winds from a tornado can reach 300 miles per hour. These violent tornadoes can be obscured by rain or nearby low hanging clouds, and can develop so rapidly that little if any advance warning is possible.

What is the difference from a Watch and a Warning?

A Watch means conditions are favorable for violent weather. This is the time to monitor the weather for changing conditions.

Look for the following danger signs of possible tornadic activity:

  • Dark, often greenish sky
  • Large, dark low lying cloud (especially if rotating)
  • Large hail
  • Loud roar, similar to a freight train

A Warning means severe weather/tornado has been spotted on the ground and/or indicated on radar, and you need to take cover immediately.

If you are indoors when a tornado warning is issued for your area:

  • Go to the lowest most interior part of your home immediately. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible
  • Stay away from windows
  • Do not open windows
  • Use your arms to protect your head
  • If you are in a trailer or mobile home, get out immediately and seek shelter in a nearby building or storm shelter

If you are driving or away from shelter when a tornado warning is issued:

  • Find shelter immediately
  • Never try to out drive a tornado
  • Do not get under an overpass or bridge for protection
  • Get out of the car immediately, and take shelter in a nearby building
  • If there is no shelter, lie in a ditch or low-lying area (lower than the level of the roadway), and use your arms to protect your head

Tornado quick facts:

  • Can strike quickly, with little to no warning
  • May appear almost transparent until dust and debris are picked up, or a cloud forms in the funnel
  • Tornadoes are most likely to occur between 3pm and 9pm, but can occur at any time
  • Southern states have peak tornado season from March through May, but as we have experienced here, they can happen any time of the year
  • The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but vary from stationary to 70 mph
  • The average tornado moves southwest to northeast, but have been known to move in any direction


Flooded area

Heavy rains can cause flash flooding in streams and tributaries with little warning, and create potentially dangerous situations for residents, motorists and pedestrians. In fact, most flood-related casualties are due to underestimating inherent dangers. Flood waters less than knee deep can easily sweep you away, and shallow levels of water (six inches to a foot) over a road can float many vehicles.

A flood watch means flooding is possible in your area.

A flash flood watch means flash flooding is possible.

A flood warning means flooding is occurring or will occur soon.

A flash flood warning means a flash flood is occurring.

To avoid potentially dangerous situations during flooding:

  • Stay informed on the weather conditions via your NOAA Weather Radio, local radio or television stations.
  • Be aware that flash flooding can occur. If a flash flood watch or warning is issued, immediately move to higher ground.
  • Do not try to drive or walk through flood waters. The depth of water is not always obvious, the road may be washed out and you might not see it.
  • If floodwaters rise around your vehicle, immediately abandon the car and if safe to do so - move to higher ground.
  • Avoid walking through moving water. Six inches can make you fall. If you have to walk in water, walk where the water is not moving, using a stick to check the firmness of the ground in front of you.
  • Take the safest routes possible, do not drive around barricades, they are there for your protection, turn around.
  • Be especially cautious driving at night, as it is harder to recognize flood dangers
  • Avoid taking any unnecessary risks
  • If you have to evacuate or travel on the road, know your route and the condition of it, and take your emergency kit with you

Severe Winter Weather

Severe winter weather can take many different forms in Middle Tennessee, including heavy snow, ice storms, extreme cold, sleet and even icy driving conditions. This wintry weather can knock out heat, power and telecommunications for hours, days or even weeks. Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Winter storms can be deceptive killers, because most deaths are indirectly related to the actual winter storm; people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and from hypothermia from prolonged exposure to the extreme cold.

Here are some tips to help you survive severe winter weather:

  • Keep advised on changing weather conditions
  • Keep your emergency kit handy. Keep extra clothes, blankets, sand, shovel in the trunk of your car.
  • Have your family communications plan ready
  • Avoid prolonged exposure to cold
  • Avoid overexertion outdoors (shoveling snow)
  • Keep dry
  • Watch for signs of frostbite, which may include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia, which may include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If hypothermia is suspected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing and warm the center of the body.
  • Travel only when necessary, avoiding night time travel, and do not travel alone or on back roads.
  • Wear several layers of clothes, a hat, mittens and waterproof shoes etc.
  • Be careful when heating your home because heating-related house fires occur often during the winter
  • Bring your pets inside during winter weather/extreme cold. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.
  • When using kerosene heaters, maintain ventilation to avoid build up of toxic fumes, refuel outdoors and keep away from flammable objects.
  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal burning device inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or other partially enclosed area. Keep unit away from doors, windows and vents to avoid carbon monoxide to go indoors. Install carbon monoxide alarms in your home.

Some winter weather terms to be familiar with are:

  • Freezing rain: rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating ice coating on the roads, walkways, trees and power lines
  • Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet can cause moisture on the road to freeze and become slippery
  • Winter Weather Advisory: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and be hazardous.
  • Winter Storm Watch: A winter storm is possible in your area.
  • Winter Storm Warning: A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
  • Blizzard Warning: Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or more and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning: Below freezing temperatures are expected.


An earthquake is the sudden, rapid shaking of the earths crust, caused by the breaking and shifting of subterranean rock. Aftershocks are similar or lesser earthquakes that follow the main earthquake.

During an earthquake you want to Drop, Cover and Hold On! Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place. If you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are safe to exit. Research has shown that a lot of injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building, or try to leave. Also, the greatest danger exists directly outside buildings and along exterior walls. Most earthquake related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass and falling objects.

If indoors during an earthquake:

  • Drop to the ground
  • Take cover under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture. If there isn't a table or desk near you, cover your head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.
  • Hold on until the shaking stops
  • Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall on top of you
  • Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake starts. Hold on and protect your head with your pillow. If you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall, move to the nearest safe place
  • Only use a doorway if you know it is strongly supported, load-bearing doorway, and it is close to you. Many interior doorways are lightly constructed and do not offer protection
  • DO NOT use an elevator
  • Be aware that electricity may go out or the fire alarms may turn on

If outdoors during an earthquake:

  • Stay outdoors
  • Move away from buildings, streetlights and utility wires, and stay in the open

If in a moving vehicle:

  • Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses and utility wires.
  • Proceed cautiously after the earthquake has stopped, as roadways, bridges and ramps might have been damaged.

If you get trapped under debris:

  • Do not move about or kick up dust
  • Cover your mouth with clothing
  • Do not light a match
  • Tap on a pipe or wall so rescuers can locate you

Hazardous Materials

Chemical spill on lake

Chemicals and hazardous materials are a part of our every day life - whether being moved through neighborhoods on roadways and railroads, or stored in our garages and under the kitchen sink. On most days, hazardous materials are used, stored and transported all over the city without incident. Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials. These substances are most often released as a result of a transportation accident, or because of chemical accidents in plants or other facilities.

If an explosion or chemical spill does occur, it is extremely important to listen to your NOAA weather radio, local radio or television stations and your first responders for detailed information and instructions. Please follow the instructions carefully and stay away from the area to minimize the risk of contamination. Keep in mind that some toxic chemicals are odorless.

If you are asked to evacuate:

  • Evacuate immediately
  • Keep informed on evacuation routes, shelters and other procedures
  • Follow the routes recommended by the authorities
  • Take your emergency kit with special items such as pet food, baby supplies, medication etc.
  • Help your neighbors who may need special assistance, such as infants, elderly and people with access and functional needs
  • As soon as you are out of danger, call your family's emergency contact to let them know where you are and that you are safe

If you are caught outdoors:

  • Stay uphill and upwind, and move away from the accident area and help keep others away
  • Do not walk in or touch any spilled liquids or mists.
  • Cover your mouth with a cloth while leaving the area.Try not to inhale gases, fumes and smoke.

If you are asked to stay indoors (shelter in place):

  • Put emergency supply kit including your NOAA weather radio with batteries in your pre-identified safe room
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows
  • Close vents, fireplace dampers and interior doors
  • Turn off air conditioning and ventilation systems. In large buildings, put ventilation system to 100% recirculation.
  • Go into your pre-identified safe room, up high and most interior room, away from windows. Don't forget your pets
  • Monitor conditions with your radio
  • Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels or plastic sheeting and duct tape
  • Seal gaps around windows and air conditioning units, exhaust fans and vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting
  • Fill cracks and holes in the room (such as around pipes) with materials you have
  • If gas or vapors have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or towel. Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated

Safe room safety:

Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide build up for up to five hours at a normal breathing rate while resting.

Local officials are unlikely to recommend being in your sealed room for more than 2-3 hours. If this point is passed, emergency personnel may evacuate the area.