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Tornado Drills: How to Simultaneously Annoy Thousands of People

2012 April 20
by Jason Nairn, CPP, CISSP

Today’s homeland security and emergency management professionals are doing multiple jobs, multi-tasking on several projects, or are just plain swamped. “I’m overwhelmed, I can’t wait to get back to busy!” State and local governments are still feeling the affects from the Great Recession and aren’t typically pouring money into emergency management and homeland security programs. Federal grant funding is diminishing and this year Congress is proposing further reductions and adjustments in key grant programs. The men and women doing this work are doing more with less.

Most HLS professionals will promptly tell you what programs suffer in this climate. Near the top of the “we-didn’t-get-to-that-this-year” list are drills, like tornado drills. Yet severe weather seems to be more prevalent. This is an unsavory combination of factors about which HLS professionals should be thinking. A less practiced plan, less prepared public and more severe weather can spell lives at risk. Fortunately, there are opportunities for HLS professionals to adapt.

State and local agencies that are able to deploy newly available technologies can begin to catch up on severe weather preparedness. Many states and local governments are marking Severe Weather Awareness Week this month with outreach, information, tornado drills and sometimes even statewide drills to better prepare their constituents. Large drills are now easier thanks to newly available technologies.

For instance, the State of Michigan this week conducted a statewide tornado drill for its centrally-managed office buildings across the state. In the past two years Michigan has installed a high-tech automated emergency messaging system in 33 of its largest multi-tenant office buildings. This system allows central station operators that monitor security and life safety systems to activate in-building messages for severe weather, emergency lockdown,and an all clear message in addition to existing fire messages. This year in a coordinated effort with multiple state agencies, Michigan was able to conduct 31 building tornado drills simultaneously for 20,000 employees. Employees in the buildings were annoyed into participating by a 3-minute audible message directing them to shelter areas. Once designated monitors had reported for their respective floors, the all-clears were announced by building. Statistics were collected on the time to shelter and time to all-clear to provide feedback to site managers. The entire drill was completed in 17 minutes for all 31 sites, geographically dispersed across both peninsulas.

Technology available today allows EM and HLS professionals to initiate these systems via mobile devices. Additionally, messaging tools like provide effective messaging solutions for local governments at low cost, and improvements in weather mapping and management software like Telvent WeatherSentry Public Safety Edition provide EM and HLS professionals with a vast array of tools to stay on top of severe weather situations.

Tornado drills may be annoying for some, but they don’t have to be time consuming or difficult. Today’s technology is providing EM and HLS professionals with exciting new tools to help state and local HLS professionals overcome the difficult resource climate.




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