Every September, our family reviews and updates our “emergency plan.” It’s a great time of the year to do it—not only is it “National Preparedness Month,” it’s back-to-school time. Now that N has started preschool, it’s time to review family emergency routes and update emergency contact information.
This year, we’ve added a new emergency to our preparedness list: tornadoes. While tornadic storms have historically been a rarity in New York City, they’re becoming more frequent—there have been five tornadoes in NYC since 2003, three of them this summer. Our family had a “too-close-for-comfort” encounter with the most recent one—my husband G was caught in the Brooklyn tornado on his way to pick up N from preschool. It was a very scary experience, and one for which I don’t feel we (and many New Yorkers) were properly prepared or warned.
I wrote a letter to Mayor Bloomberg about the lack of preparation and warning in NYC for sudden severe weather, which you can read below.
If you’d like more information about National Preparedness Month, including tips on preparing a family emergency plan, go to http://www.ready.gov.
If you’re in New York City want to sign up to receive “Notify NYC” updates, go to https://a858-nycnotify.nyc.gov/notifynyc/. You can enter multiple addresses (work, home, school) and get notified of city emergencies via email, SMS, or phone.
We can’t stop emergencies from happening, but we can be prepared for them!
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
New York, NY 10007
Dear Mayor Bloomberg:
As a mom in Brooklyn, I’m constantly watching out for my daughter’s safety—whether it’s making sure she holds my hand while crossing the street, strapping her securely in her car seat or just taking off her socks so she won’t slip while she’s running at top speed across the kitchen floor.
But the evening of September 16th, 2010, when two tornadoes struck Brooklyn and Queens, I was utterly powerless to protect her. She was at her new preschool that day and I was at work; thankfully, her teachers knew to send the kids down to the basement as the weather turned threatening. They didn’t know where in Brooklyn the tornado was—they just knew they needed to take cover. None of the kids were hurt.
My husband was in his car on the way to pick her up when he was caught directly in the path of the tornado. For one terrifying minute, he narrated over the phone to me: “A piece of wood just hit the car…there’s debris blowing all around…the sky overhead is green…I can’t see anything…the car is moving and shaking in the wind. I am in the tornado.”
When the worst was over, he drove home past downed trees and flash floods. That night, I counted my blessings that both my husband and daughter were safe.
But as I thought more about the rapid-moving storm that hit so unexpectedly, something disturbed me. Like my husband, many New Yorkers were completely unaware of the approaching storm as they commuted home during the evening rush hour—some in their cars, one of the most dangerous places to be during a tornado. Others like me were trying to find useful information on TV or online— exactly where the storm was, how fast it was moving, and what people should do to protect themselves—but found no quick, helpful information. Tens of thousands of unprepared New Yorkers were caught at the mercy of the storm.
I grew up in Oklahoma, smack in the middle of “Tornado Alley.” Having lived through many tornadic storms and witnessed the havoc they can wreak on communities, I have great respect for these forces of nature. When I was in school, we had a “tornado drill” every spring, where we practiced quickly moving to interior rooms without windows, crouching on our knees and covering our head with our hands. If we were at home when a tornado hit, we knew to get into the bathtub and cover ourselves with a mattress and pillows (we didn’t have a basement).
Preparing for a tornado was important, but in a fast-moving tornadic storm, quick access to helpful information is equally as important. In Oklahoma, most people get their warning from the local TV stations. Local meteorologists issue a “tornado watch” when conditions are right for a tornadic storm; when the storm hits, an experienced meteorologist interrupts the regular programming to deliver precise updates on the location of possible rotation and the likely path of the storm, and urges people to take cover.
I don’t expect New Yorkers to start behaving as if we are in “tornado alley.” Tornadoes are still a rare enough occurrence in New York that it’s a surprise when they hit. Still, New York City has been hit by five tornadoes since 2003, and it’s entirely possible that climate changes could make tornadoes more frequent. I would like to know what steps your administration is taking to prepare New Yorkers for fast-moving severe weather, and what you will do to ensure that people get adequate warning when tornadic storms approach.
Our family has a lengthy list of common-sense safety precautions that we already take—I don’t mind adding another for tornadoes. And if more New Yorkers do the same, maybe a life will be saved or injuries will be prevented. If so, then it’s worth the extra effort.
A Mom in Brooklyn