A detailed home tornado safety plan won't help you much if you're away from home when the tornado threatens. You need to think about what you will do if a tornado threatens you while you're away from home - at work, church, school, while shopping, dining out, on vacation, or participating in outdoor activities.
Danger is higher when you're away from home, when you may be unfamiliar with the area and away from your usual sources of weather information. It is important for business owners, and those responsible for safety in all types of public buildings and venues to think about and plan for tornado safety for all employees, occupants and potential visitors.
There is a myth that tornadoes don't hit urban areas, but this is UNTRUE! Even if you are away from home in a large city, you should stay alert when severe weather threatens. More information can be found at the bottom of this page.
Think about tornado safety in hotels, motels. Some lodging establishments have safety plans for guests, but others may not, and you may be on your own. Some establishments suggest guests seek shelter in hallways. However, you should remember to avoid open hallways - hallways that have doors and/or windows on either end. These can become wind tunnels and send debris flying down the corridor. Interior bathrooms and closets near the center of the building may be good shelters in this situation. Again, wherever you are forced to seek shelter in a tornado, cover up with pillows, heavy blankets or whatever you can find.
The same basic tornado safety guidelines apply in any public building, whether it's your local shopping mall, a hospital or nursing home, a grocery or discount store, a church, a hotel, convenience store, truck stop or restaurant.
If a tornado threatens, you should not leave in your car! Being in a sturdy building is most likely safer than being in your vehicle on the road if a tornado hits. Stay calm and cool and try to find a safe shelter wherever you are.
Being exposed outdoors is one of the worst places to be in a tornado or severe thunderstorm. Being involved in outdoor activities can sometimes put you at increased risk, because you're exposed outdoors and possibly in an unfamiliar area.
Organized outdoor events, including sporting events at all times of year, should have weather safety plans. People at large sporting events are especially vulnerable because of the difficulties involved in moving large numbers of people. Event coordinators or managers should have a detailed severe weather safety plan in place and practice it. People at large outdoor gatherings or events should listen when severe weather information is conveyed and follow instructions if a safety plan is put into action.
Contrary to what some people may think, tornadoes can hit urban areas. In fact it has happened in the past, a few in recent memory! On April 16, 1998 several tornadoes hit the immediate Nashville, Tennessee area. One of the tornadoes was rated an F3 and tracked through the downtown portions of the city. On August 11, 1999 an F2 tornado went right through downtown Salt Lake City (more information from the NWS in Salt Lake City).
Fort Worth, Texas was struck by an F2 tornado on March 28, 2000, including parts of downtown. The area just to the northeast of downtown Fort Worth was actually hit even more recently, on April 13, 2007.
Here in Oklahoma, urban areas have been hit by tornadoes as well. Perhaps the most famous example was on May 3, 1999 when an F5 tornado struck the city of Moore, just south of Oklahoma City. The same tornado tracked to the northeast, into the Oklahoma City city limits. (more information on that outbreak). In fact, the Oklahoma City metro area has been hit by a violent tornado (rated F4 or F5) on 9 seperate occasions, most recently on May 8, 2003. The metro area has been hit by a tornado over 100 times since records began in 1893.
The bottom line is, when severe weather threatens, you should follow the safety procedures detailed above, even when you are in an urban area!