News | March 15, 2021

DSCR mass warning system to be tested during Virginia annual tornado drill March 16

By William H. Bullock Sr., Installation Emergency Manager

Virginia’s Severe Weather Awareness Week takes place March 15-19.

On March 16, the annual tornado response drill will take place throughout many cities and counties within the commonwealth. During the drill, Defense Logistics Agency Installation Management Richmond employees on Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, will test the mass warning notification system, Giant Voice, with a "seek shelter" message. 

The installation issues three different messages based on the type of emergency: seek shelter, shelter-in-place and lockdown.  Understanding commands received via mass notification can be the difference between life and death. 

"Seek shelter" means to immediately look for or "seek" a protected place to stay until the emergency has subsided and is used for weather-type events. "Shelter-in-place" means to take immediate shelter within the building or area you already occupy, rather than to evacuate to another location during a chemical, biological, nuclear, radioactive or explosives event. "Lockdown" means to remain in the place or building in which you are located, locking all doors and windows to barricade or block entry to the room, building or facility where people are attempting to remain safe from an active shooter event.       

Although locations used for the three messages above can be similar or entirely different, it is essential to understand that "seek shelter" is synonymous with tornado season. 

Every year, Virginia is susceptible to severe thunderstorms. These storms can produce tornados, which are short-lived, but very destructive.

During a tornado, flying debris is one of the greatest dangers, and it is best to avoid any room with windows that debris could potentially break. The best location to "seek shelter" is an enclosed, windowless area in the center of a building or the sturdiest part of a building. Interior stairwells are alternate places to shelter. 

There are a couple of myths about staying safe during tornados: opening windows and seeking shelter under highway overpasses.

There is a misconception that opening the windows in your home before or during a tornado will reduce damage to your home because having the window open balances the pressure inside and outside of your house. This is false.

According to Missouri’s Storm Aware website, “Homes are damaged and destroyed by the extremely strong winds in a tornado, not pressure. If a tornado is approaching, you should seek shelter immediately. Taking the time to open all of your windows will put you in danger and will not protect your home from forceful winds.”

Many people also believe that if they are driving during a tornado, they should abandon their vehicles and seek shelter under overpasses.  This is also false.

“While a highway overpass is a sturdy structure that may offer protection from flying debris, it will not protect you from dangerous winds,” the website states. “An overpass can act as a wind tunnel and may cause accelerated wind that collects debris, causing you more harm. If you are in your vehicle and a tornado is approaching, you should pull your vehicle to the side of the road immediately, get out, and lay flat in a nearby ditch covering your neck and head.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration urges individuals to drive away from tornados if they can safely do so. According to NOAA, on average, tornadoes move at 35 - 45mph, so going away should be the first course of action if you encounter a tornado while in a vehicle.

Should employees have more questions about appropriate tornado responses, they can access the  Ready.gov website.