Plan ahead for tornado safety

Editor's Note: This story is the second in a series that runs through Friday on how to prepare for severe weather.

CONYERS -- Tornadoes are violently rotating columns of air, extending from a thunderstorm that is in contact with the ground. Tornadoes can vary in shape, size and intensity. Most tornadoes are weak, lasting a few minutes and producing winds of less than 100 mph. However, a few tornadoes are strong and can even be described as violent. These tornadoes last from 20 minutes to over an hour and can produce winds of between 100 and 300 mph.

Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington, director of the Conyers-Rockdale County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), offers the following information to protect families and businesses and to have a plan of action before a threatening tornado develops:

Prepare a Home Tornado Plan:

-- Pick a place where family members could gather if a tornado is in the area. It could be a basement or, if there is no basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest floor. Keep this place uncluttered.

-- If in a high-rise building, there may not be time to go to the lowest floor. Pick a place in a hallway in the center of the building.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit Containing:

-- First aid kit and essential medications.

-- Canned food and can opener.

-- At least three gallons of water per person.

-- Protective clothing, bedding or sleeping bags.

-- Battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries.

-- Special items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.

-- Written instructions on how to turn off electricity, gas and water if authorities advise to do so. (Remember, a professional is required to restore natural gas service.)

Stay Tuned for Storm Warnings:

-- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or local radio and television stations for updated storm information.

-- Know what a tornado WATCH and WARNING means:

-- A tornado WATCH means a tornado is possible in the area.

-- A tornado WARNING means a tornado has been sighted and may be in the area. Go to safety immediately.

-- Tornado WATCHES and WARNINGS are issued by the National Weather Service.

When a Tornado WATCH is Issued:

-- Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or local radio and television stations for further updates.

-- Be alert to changing weather conditions. Blowing debris or the sound of an approaching tornado (Many people say it sounds like a freight train.) are a couple of the signs.

When a Tornado WARNING is Issued:

-- If inside, go to the safe place chosen to protect against glass and other flying objects. The tornado may be approaching the area.

-- If outside, hurry to the basement of a nearby sturdy building or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area.

-- If in a car or mobile home, get out immediately and head for safety.

After the Tornado Passes:

-- Watch out for fallen power lines and stay out of the damaged area. - Listen to the radio for information and instructions. - Use a flashlight to inspect for damage.

-- Do not use candles at any time.

Wigington also encourages all local schools, day care centers, and businesses to participate in the statewide tornado drill set for today at 9 a.m. The National Weather Service will issue a Required Weekly Test on NOAA Weather Radios which should be treated as a Tornado Warning, and participants should follow their tornado plan. The drill is set to last approximately thirty minutes.

For more information, visit these websites: www.gema.ga.gov, www.srh.noaa.gov/ffc/, or www.ready.ga.gov.