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How Do We Accomplish This Goal?

One way to begin minimizing the practice of getting underneath overpass bridges to seek shelter from tornadoes and severe thunderstorms is very simple. REDUCE SHOWING OF IMAGES AND VIDEOS OF PEOPLE CLIMBING UP UNDER OVERPASSES AROUND SEVERE STORMS!!! While it is true that many of these pictures and videos are spectacular, they are often shown in the context of ‘shock’ video. The brutal truth is that these images are VERY powerful. The simple act of showing these images contributes significantly to reinforcing the concept that this is the proper thing to do. At a very minimum, accurate background information about the videos or pictures should be provided. Unfortunately, even this may be somewhat dangerous. Viewers might well not hear what is being said, being more strongly influenced by the images than the accompanying words. Generally, time spent on what NOT to do is not time well-spent. Instead, a much better approach is to show images of what TO do - thus reinforcing the best possible actions to take in a tornado warning situation.

Authors’ note as of 12/16/99: All of the video we have seen from the May 3 event has contained ‘overpass’ footage.

Another way to approach this issue is improvement and intensification of current efforts to promote and emphasize existing safety guidelines. These guidelines can be summarized as: get as many walls between you and the tornado as possible, stay away from windows, get down as far as possible (preferably underground or in a "safe room"), and cover up. As we have already discussed in Slide 21, these safety practices work very well, even in strong and violent tornadoes.

Meanwhile, we need to emphasize that the first option for people in vehicles should be to GET OUT OF THE TORNADO PATH! If this is not possible, people should abandon vehicles and seek shelter inside a well-constructed building. When doing so, practice the aforementioned safety recommendations. As a final, absolutely last resort (which should ALMOST NEVER BE NEEDED if the first two options are available), the final options of a ditch or overpass, or staying in a vehicle are all that remain. It needs to be emphasized with great urgency that, apart from getting out of the tornado's path, there really is NO GOOD option - PERIOD. Being in a tornado's path is deep trouble!

Yet another approach might be to introduce the concept of situation awareness into a general program of severe storm safety preparation - sort of a "Personal Insurance Policy." The concept of situation awareness is not new, and has been used in training by the military and aviation industries for many years. Situation awareness can most simply be defined as being aware of the surroundings (environment) AND THE DIFFERENT POSSIBILITIES IN THAT PARTICULAR ENVIRONMENT, and then making appropriate decisions based on the perception of what is happening (or has the potential to happen). In the case of someone driving through central Oklahoma on May 3, 1999, situation awareness would work something like this:

  1. I checked the forecast for central Oklahoma this morning before I left home to drive from location x to location y. The possibility of severe thunderstorms was mentioned.
  2. I am in Oklahoma.
  3. It is springtime (severe weather season in the southern Great Plains)
  4. It is a warm and very humid day.
  5. There is a strong southerly wind blowing.
  6. There is static from time to time on my radio.
  7. There is a big dark cloud in the southwest sky.

Actions based on this assessment of the environment:

  1. I should turn on my radio and check what is going on with the weather.
  2. I should not drive blindly into a storm if I don't know what's going on.
  3. If I see a tornado, I need to find out how it's moving, so I don't drive into its path.

This approach is also linked to the concept of personal risk assessment. All persons must assess, for themselves, what their risk is. If this is done, it is our contention that in many instances (especially in this age of increasingly instant communication) it is possible to have enough information to avoid being in the path of a severe storm in the first place!

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