Severe Weather Safety
Each person has a role to play in preparedness. Here are several ways to prepare yourself and your family for severe weather season.
We encourage everyone to create a personal severe weather plan before severe weather strikes, so you are alerted and know what to do.
Here are the key parts of your severe weather plan:
Understanding Terminology & Getting Alerts
Know the Terminology: Watches vs. Warnings
One of the first steps to preparedness is knowing the difference between watches and warnings. This will help you determine which actions to take for your safety.
WATCHES are issued when a specific hazard is possible during a specific time range.
- TORNADO WATCH: Issued when the National Weather Service believes thunderstorms are likely to develop, become severe and produce tornadoes and/or large hail and damaging winds.
- SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH: Issued when the National Weather Service believes thunderstorms are likely to develop, become severe and produce large hail and/or damaging winds.
- ACTIONS TO TAKE: Identify where you will be during the watch time frame. Next, determine where you will take cover if a warning is issued. This may be on the road, at home, at work, at school, etc. Stay alert to changing weather conditions.
WARNINGS are issued when a specific hazard is or is believed to be occurring.
- SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING: Issued when a severe thunderstorm is indicated by weather radar or a spotter reports at least 58 mph winds or 1 inch hail.
- TORNADO WARNING: Issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar.
- ACTIONS TO TAKE: Take action immediately! Move to the lowest level of the building to an interior room with no windows. Stay in that room until the thunderstorm has passed.
Getting Your Warning
No matter what method you choose, be sure you have more than 1 way to get severe weather alerts just in case one does not work. Here are a few suggestions.
- Weather radios are a cost effective and reliable method to receive notice of impending weather.
- Have battery back-up.
- Equipped with a special alarm tone that will give immediate information about a weather, natural or man-made emergency, or a life–threatening situation.
- Can be programmed for your specific county.
- The hearing and visually impaired can get these warnings by connecting weather radios with alarm tones, strobe lights, pagers, bed-shakers, etc.
- Intended to alert those in recreational areas or who are outside.
- Sirens will sound for 3 minutes, then stop before being activated again.
- This continues until the warning has ended or when the storm has moved out of the area.
- There is NO All Clear siren sound. If you hear the sirens...Take Cover!
- Douglas County offers a free call notification system which will send weather alerts to you via call, text, and e-mail.
- Monitoring local radio and TV along with other tools will help keep you informed of changing weather conditions. Local media will also provide the "all clear".
- Most newer phones are equipped to receive these for Amber Alerts, Flash Flood Warnings and Tornado Warnings. Find out more about these alerts.
- Social media can be a good place to find updates and information about ongoing or potential severe weather. Be sure to follow official sources like DCEM, National Weather Service & local news outlets.
- Some cell phone applications offer alerts for severe weather. Before relying on an application, ensure it provides an audible tone to alert you even when the app isn't running.
When a warning is issued for your area, take the following safety precautions:
- Move to a designated shelter (as determined by the facility or installed in your home), such as a basement or installed saferoom.
- If a basement is not available, move to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture.
- Stay away from windows.
- Do not try to outrun a tornado. Abandon the vehicle, and take cover in a nearby structure or building following the guidelines above.
- If a suitable structure is not available, either get down in your car and cover your head, or abandon your car and seek shelter in a low lying area such as a ditch or ravine.
- Even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned.
- If severe weather is possible, see about staying with a friend or if your park has a shelter available.
- If on an upper floor, see if a neighbor below is available to assist you or if the complex has a ground level or basement facility available.
- Otherwise, go to and interior room on the lowest level possible.
You may not always be in a familiar place when severe weather strikes. Any time severe weather is possible, use the information above to identify a good shelter before the storms arrive. You can also ask the manager or a similar person where their shelter is located.
Douglas County does not have community tornado shelters. Some community members use open public buildings as their shelter. Call ahead before the severe weather event to determine the hours of operation for any location you plan to use. Do not assume that location will be open. This could be very dangerous. If you plan to leave your home, give yourself plenty of time to get to your shelter location.
What's My Role in Preparedness? A Personal Approach
Why is preparedness important?
Fires, water main breaks, and power outages are all possible interruptions to your regular schedule which many only impact you or your neighborhood. Floods, tornadoes, winter storms, and heat waves are natural disasters which can impact a much larger population for an extended period of time. All who live and work in Douglas County are subject to these and other man-made and disease-related emergencies which can happen with little notice and can change the course of your day or year. Taking steps to be prepared can reduce fear, anxiety, and losses that accompany emergencies.
What is your role in an emergency or disaster?
Emergency Services and government agencies may not be able to respond to your needs immediately. Their buildings, equipment, communications, mobility, and personnel, may be severely hampered by the emergency or disaster event or they may need to focus efforts elsewhere. Local government and disaster-relief organizations will try to help you, but you need to take steps to ready yourself and your family for the emergency. Everyone needs to be prepared to survive on your own for a minimum of 3 days, and in some cases you may need to be able to stay home for 10 days.
While we cannot control natural disasters, emergencies, or unexpected events, we can be prepared, and we can protect ourselves and our families. Taking time to plan and prepare will help you and your family lessen the impact an emergency has on you. The most important concept in developing a Family Emergency Preparedness Plan is communication. Every member of the family needs to be involved so that when disaster strikes, everyone will know what to do, and how to keep in touch. How well you manage the aftermath of a disaster depends a great deal on how well you prepare today—before the disaster strikes!
Here are steps you can take to prepare yourself and your family:
- Though not the most fun task, identify the hazards or risks you may face. Tornadoes, power outages, house fire, etc.
- Identify what steps you can take to minimize the negative impacts from those hazards or risks.
- Identifying a severe weather shelter, washing your hands or staying home when sick, installing and checking smoke detectors, etc.
- Create an Emergency Plan to include
- Multiple ways to get emergency alerts
- How you will communicate with friends/family - where you are and that you are safe
- Where you will take shelter during severe weather
- What routes you can take to leave your neighborhood if you need to evacuate
- Build an emergency kit
- These are basic supplies (many of which you likely have around the house) to have ready for any emergency. This kit/bag/container can lessen the stress of an emergency.
- Consider your personal needs - glasses/contacts, medications, etc.
- Don't forget your pets!
How can I learn more?
Douglas County Emergency Management offers a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) weekend course, typically twice a year. The CERT training is designed to help you help others in the first seventy-two (72) hours of an event. By taking the CERT class, you will gain knowledge and skills to prepare yourself for emergencies and may be able to provide basic emergency response assistance in a disaster to family members, co-workers or neighbors. Read more or register here.