February 17, 2011

Knowledge of safety plan crucial as tornado season approaches

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With severe weather season approaching, now is the time to review tornado safety plans. (iStock photo)

Knowledge of safety plan crucial as tornado season approaches

Tornadoes occur most often in Tennessee in March, April and May. So Vanderbilt's Department of Emergency Preparedness is urging all employees to review their tornado safety plan.

Vanderbilt is one of 68 universities designated StormReady by the National Weather Service. The University contracted with a weather monitoring service, which tracks storm systems and issues alerts when the storms pose a threat to campus.

“This system monitors both the main campus and One Hundred Oaks,” said Pam Hoffner, R.N., M.S.N., director of Emergency Preparedness and Response for Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “It is extremely reliable and sends out an automatic alert when a tornado is detected.”

“Yellow alert standby for tornado” is announced when a tornado warning has been issued for Davidson County. Staff should prepare for tornadic weather by reviewing the tornado safety plan for their specific work area.

“Each department has a sub-plan which identifies the safest place in each work area. The safe location should be in an area without windows. Conference rooms and bathrooms are good options,” Hoffner said.

Staff responsible for direct patient care should assess the ambulatory status of all patients and prepare to close window curtains and turn non-ambulatory patients away from windows.

“Orange alert for tornado” is announced when a tornado is approaching the Vanderbilt campus. When this overhead announcement is heard, ambulatory patients and visitors should be moved to an interior part of the unit away from doors and windows. Do not direct patients or visitors to the basement.

In addition to the overhead announcements, Vanderbilt's campus has five tornado sirens that will be activated if a tornado is detected and is within 15 minutes of reaching campus.

There are also sirens operated by the Metropolitan Nashville government, which are activated when a tornado warning is issued for any part of Davidson County. The sirens closest to the Vanderbilt campus are located in Centennial Park and Fannie Mae Dees Park. These sirens may be heard on the Vanderbilt campus while a tornado is not headed directly for campus.

“There can be confusion because one set of sirens is going off while another isn't,” said Johnny Vanderpool, senior safety officer with Vanderbilt Environmental Health & Safety.

“The Vanderbilt sirens are specifically for our campus. We do not cry wolf, and when the sirens are activated, it means a tornado is within 15 minutes of hitting campus.”

Hear a sound sample of each of the sirens at: http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/myvu/news/2010/03/09/when-do-vanderbilt-tornado-sirens-sound-it-may-not-be-when-you-think.109239

Offsite locations that do not get overhead announcements and may not hear sirens should have a weather radio and monitor Medical Center Communication e-mails.

Overall, it is most important to know your department's safety plan and heed Vanderbilt-issued warnings.

“This is for your safety and the safety of our patients and visitors,” Hoffner said. “Complacency can cost lives.”