Never say never: Natural disasters can happen here too

  • Published
  • By Maj. Daniel Ferris
  • 49th Fighter Wing Plans and Inspection office
I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore, but it still feels like Tornado Alley. Just ask the folks up at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, who were hit with a tornado a few months back.

We also had four touch down around Holloman and WSMR during the Phase 1 and Phase 2 Exercise bracketing both sides of the friendliest place on earth.

I was born and raised in Kansas City and did my fair share of ducking into basements whenever I heard the disaster sirens go off, something we're not accustomed to here. Don't be the one who tries to get that "great tornado picture" only to end up as a casualty.
Some tornadoes are clearly visible, while rain or low-hanging clouds obscure others. Some tornadoes develop so rapidly that little, if any, advance warning is possible.

While we're not in Tornado Alley, we have good potential for severe storms, floods and tornadoes when summer hits with afternoon cloud buildups over the mountains and the rains associated with "Monsoon Season." Tornadoes are one of the most violent storms on land and can cause fatalities and devastate a neighborhood in seconds.

We have all the classic signs of severe weather that could damage our property and, worst yet, hurt our folks. We got a wake up call to Mother Nature's fury last year when Alamogordo flooded; luckily no one was seriously injured. The best way to handle Mother Nature's worst is to have a plan.

As the chief of plans for the base, I'm going to give you a brief synopsis of our plan and tips on how to handle severe weather and tornados.

1. Communication plan. Family and workers must have a plan to get in contact each other. 

2. Stay tuned in. If weather is approaching, give up your IPOD and XM satellite radio and listen to the local radio stations, like 97.7 FM for latest weather reports and advisories. On base listen to or watch the Commander's Channel, giant voice and the Disaster Warning Signal. 

3. Listen. If you hear the Disaster Warning Signal of a 3-5 minute steady tone on a siren (like an Air Raid Siren) this indicates:
· A disaster/incident affecting the base is imminent or in progress. Examples: tornadoes, flash floods, hazardous material releases or wildfires.
· Your actions: 
    -- Be alert, ensure all personnel are warned.
    -- Follow instructions to take cover, evacuate to a safe location or shelter in-place. 

4. Take cover immediately and don't go outside. A building offers better protection than being outside. Move to the lowest level in the building and an interior room/hallway without windows. If possible, take cover under a desk or table as an additional means of protection. If nothing is suitable to get under, get on the floor in the center of the room. All personnel will take cover until the "All-Clear" is announced. 

5. Personnel outside. Take cover immediately in the nearest building. If a building is not close by, personnel should move quickly to a low-lying area or ditch to take cover. They should lay face down with their hands covering their heads. All personnel will take cover until the "All-Clear" is announced. NOTE: If the tornado warning is accompanied by heavy rain, use extreme caution in low-lying areas as flash flooding may occur.
The first part of handling any disaster is having a plan.