University officials share weather-related safety information
The Ann Arbor area already has had a heavy dose of severe weather this spring. Now, during Severe Weather Awareness Week, university officials would like to remind members of the campus community about important information to help them plan for and respond to severe weather. Decisions that individuals make in preparation for these emergencies can lessen the impact on individuals and communities.
Joe Piersante, interim chief of police for the Department of Public Safety, and Terry Alexander, executive director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, recently answered some general weather safety questions.
Q: What is the difference between a storm 'watch' and a storm 'warning'?
Alexander: A storm 'watch' means that conditions are favorable to produce severe weather, but that it has not yet occurred. A storm 'warning' means that severe weather, such as a tornado or thunderstorm, has been detected in the area and people in the vicinity should seek immediate shelter to protect themselves.
For a more detailed explanation of various storm definitions, visit the university's Emergency Preparedness website.
Q: What should I do if I hear an outdoor warning siren?
Piersante: The outdoor warning siren is a signal to people who are outside to immediately go indoors and monitor local media outlets for official information.
Both Washtenaw County and the City of Ann Arbor manage separate systems. Typically, the county sirens are not audible at many on-campus locations. The city sirens are intended to be heard throughout the city, including outside on-campus buildings, to warn people to take indoor shelter.
Q: How can I stay safe on campus or at home during severe weather?
Piersante: The most important thing people can do to stay safe during severe weather is to make a plan in advance. Taking time to plan for severe weather before it occurs can help to avoid last-minute panic when a tornado or other natural disaster strikes. Emergency plans should include predetermining where you will take shelter — and having a backup — ensuring you will have a way to access important information about the storm from your shelter, such as a battery-operated weather radio, and having the necessary supplies for you to stay safe and healthy while in your shelter.
Q: What makes for a good shelter in severe weather?
Alexander: Different types of severe weather warrant different types of shelters, but for tornados and severe thunderstorms, the safest shelter is an interior hallway or small interior room on the lowest level of the building, away from windows and glass.
Q: How can I stay informed about severe weather when I'm on campus?
Piersante: One of the most important steps individuals can take to stay informed about threatening weather is to sign up to receive a UM Emergency Alert. Messages are delivered when a tornado warning has been issued for our county.
The UM Emergency Alert system delivers urgent updates via e-mail, text and phone calls. Individuals can register up to two phone numbers to receive phone call notifications and one number to receive text messages to ensure they are always kept up to date. Registration is available on the university's UM Emergency Alert website.
Q: What external sources can I use to stay informed about severe weather in the area?
Piersante: In addition to notifications from the UM Emergency Alert system, individuals can monitor local media outlets for updated information during severe weather. Washtenaw County's emergency broadcasters are:
Q: How common is severe weather in Michigan?
Alexander: According to the National Weather Service, Michigan is hit by an average of 16 tornados each year, usually between May and August. Last year, four deaths and 31 injuries occurred as the result of severe weather in Michigan.
Q: Should I practice emergency drills with my department or unit?
Alexander: It's essential that people not only make plans for severe weather, but also that they practice them. We strongly encourage all departments and units to participate in a severe weather drill each spring to help familiarize faculty, staff and students with procedures and shelter locations. The Office of Emergency Preparedness can assist units that are interested in conducting these types of drills.
Q: What type of supplies should I have on hand in case severe weather strikes?
Alexander: The National Weather Service recommends that individuals have a battery-operated radio, flashlight with extra batteries, first-aid kit, water, food, and a cell phone on hand during severe weather. Battery operated devices are important as power loss may occur during a storm, and cell phones are important to have on hand.