UI strengthens emergency plan

By Sky Opila

On Sunday, April 16, a total of 24 tornadoes were reported around the United States, 23 of those tornadoes touched down in Illinois, according to the Storm Prediction Center’s Web site.

The University is working to develop emergency operation plans for campus buildings, including Residence Halls, academic buildings and private certified housing.

“Currently, we have a good understanding of how to react during tornadoes, but there is a lot more we can be doing,” said Kipling Mecum, director of emergency planning at the University.

One year ago, the University established Mecum’s position in order to build up the campus’ safety plans, not only in tornado situations, but in a variety of emergencies such as fires, explosions, floods or any other disaster that could possibly strike campus.

“We do have an overall campus emergency operations plan that identifies a lot of this,” he said. “The reception I’ve had in terms of acting in this role and working with campus units has been excellent.”

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    Mecum’s goal is to have information on an effective plan for tornadoes for all campus buildings. However, even without these plans fully developed, there are a number of ways students can be safe in tornadoes.

    “Students should understand their surrounding community and where the safest spots are,” said Mike Sola, weather producer for WILL. “If they cannot get to a specific tornado safe location, they should go to the lowest level of the building or an interior room with as many walls between them and the outside as possible.”

    The most important action to take in a tornado is to seek any type of shelter possible, said Jim Angel, Illinois State Climatologist.

    “Every tornado is not like ‘The Wizard of Oz’ where your house is going to get swept away,” he said “The fact of the matter is that serious injuries can be caused by flying debris. Students must find secure shelter.”

    In Illinois, March through October is considered tornado season, Angel said.

    “Although we kind of established these months as the most active times, tornadoes can happen anytime of the year where conditions are right,” he said. “In particular, the warm, moist conditions of April make it a very active month for tornadoes.”

    Wednesday marked the 10-year anniversary of one of the biggest tornadoes in central Illinois’ history.

    “There was an F3 category tornado that did the bulk of its damage in Decatur, Ogden and eastern Urbana,” Sola said. “Although Illinois has experienced an F5 tornado, we have never had one of that caliber in central Illinois in the years I’ve lived here.”

    Nevertheless, the only way for students to stay updated about tornadoes coming to their area is to be observant.

    “Each storm system is unique,” Sola said. “Sometimes we get lucky and can almost predict severe weather as much as a week to 10 days in advance, although its exact location is unknown.”

    Mecum said that when a tornado siren sounds it generally means that a warning lasting 30 minutes has been issued. If students do not hear a second siren after 30 minutes, they can assume the weather has cleared, he added.

    Another way to stay informed is by using a Weather Alert Radio.

    “Weather alert radios are designed to warn of severe weather during the overnight hours when there may not be a meteorologist in the news station,” Sola said. “It may not look as attractive as an iPod, but an iPod can’t save your life.”

    Although Illinois already has one recorded fatality from a tornado this month, students can avoid becoming a statistic by making sure they follow the guidelines for safety.