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NIU to students, faculty and staff: be prepared

March 8, 2012

StormReadySevere weather has already impacted parts of Illinois and neighboring states thus far in 2012, and during Illinois’ Severe Weather Awareness Week, which runs through March 10, Northern Illinois University reminds all students, faculty, staff and visitors to be prepared for severe weather conditions such as flooding, thunderstorms and tornadoes and have emergency plans in place for severe weather hazards.

The National Weather Service’s Chicago-area StormReady advisory board certified NIU as the first university in the nation to earn NWS StormReady distinction in 2002, recognizing its outstanding, established plans for severe weather preparedness.

“When we have severe weather,” NIU Meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste says, “within minutes, we are able to react and quickly get all employees, faculty, staff and students to a safe location.”

NIU’s Department of Police and Public Safety offers the following tips to stay safe during the upcoming storm season:

  • Always pay attention to severe weather watches and warnings. Monitor weather forecasts before you spend an extended period of time outdoors.
  • Sign up for NIU’s campus alerts and advisories. Campus advisories, which come in the form of an e-mail, are timely notifications of potential emergency such as a tornado being spotted in DeKalb County.  Emergency text alerts, which utilize SMS text messaging technology, are used to distribute urgent information regarding emergencies that dictate immediate action because they present an imminent threat to the lives and safety of the general campus population such as a tornado spotted near campus.
  • Real-time weather alerts are available on the NIU Weather website, through email and cell phones through NIU Weather.
  • The best way to receive severe weather watches and warnings is with a tone alert NOAA Weather Radio – All Hazards. A weather radio will give you severe weather information direct from your local National Weather Service office. Nearly 300 weather radios have been installed in buildings and offices across NIU’s campus.
  • Battery-operated AM/FM radios are also helpful.  Keep a fresh supply of batteries on hand.
  • Before severe weather strikes, review your emergency plan.
  • Know what to do if outdoor warning sirens have been activated.
  • During a severe weather event, if you are inside a structure, make your way to a pre-designated shelter area such as the safe room, basement, storm cellar or lowest level of the building.
  • During a severe weather event, if you are in a vehicle, leave the vehicle and find a structure with a safe shelter area as described above. If you cannot find a structure, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding at any time.

“It is important to take proactive steps now in order to be better prepared to assist one another in the event of a weather-related emergency,” says Sgt. Alan Smith. “Having a plan for severe weather makes the campus a safer place.”

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency Severe Weather Preparedness Guide is useful in planning/responding to severe weather.  The National Weather Service severe weather safety webpage is also a tremendous resource.


Tornado Watches and Warnings

Tornadoes are the most destructive storms that occur in Illinois. Being prepared for a tornado can save your life.

• A tornado watch means severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are possible in your area over the next few hours. Be prepared.

• A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted by a trained storm spotter, or intense rotation that will likely produce a tornado has been detected by Doppler radar. Get to a place of safety immediately. In campus buildings, go to small interior rooms or interior halls on the lowest floor. Stay away from windows and avoid large open areas. Long corridors with doors or windows on the end can act as wind tunnels.

Severe Thunderstorm Safety

Severe thunderstorms pose a threat to life and property. They produce damaging downburst winds of around 60 mph or greater, and/or large destructive hail, one inch in diameter or greater. Flooding rains, frequent cloud to ground lightning, and tornadoes are also possible in severe thunderstorms.

• A severe thunderstorm watch means severe thunderstorms are possible in the next few hours. Be prepared.

• A severe thunderstorm warning means a thunderstorm capable of causing property damage and injury has been sighted or detected by radar. Go indoors and stay away from windows.

• Damaging straight line or downburst winds from a thunderstorm can do as much damage as a weak to moderate tornado, so take severe thunderstorm warnings seriously.

• Very large hail, golf ball or larger, is very destructive and occurs with the most violent of storms.

Lightning Safety

As lightning is the most frequent important weather threat to personal safety during the thunderstorm season, keep these lightning safety tips in mind:

• Plan ahead and avoid dangerous lightning situations. Check the latest forecast before going outdoors for extended periods. Watch for storms and seek shelter indoors when storms approach.

• Lightning often strikes the tallest object. If caught outdoors during a storm, don’t stand next to tall trees or power poles and avoid open areas where you may be the tallest object. A closed, hard top metal vehicle is safe in a thunderstorm. An open structure such as a picnic shelter may keep you dry but it will not protect you from lightning.

• If boating or swimming, get out of the water when storms approach and seek shelter indoors.

• Avoid using electrical appliances, corded telephones and metal plumbing when indoors during a thunderstorm. It is okay to use a cell phone or cordless phone.

• The best way to stay safe from lightning is to go indoors as soon as there is a threat.