It’s Severe Weather Awareness Week here in Minnesota, so it was somewhat appropriate timing for an unintentional activation of the tornado sirens in Hennepin County at 6:10 am today. It turned out to be a software malfunction, not an actual threat, but what a way to start the day! I have a bit of an obsession with tornadoes after living through the Night of the Twisters in Grand Island, Nebraska, when I was three; our house was spared, but hearing the sirens go off always gives me a little flashback to that night and the storms’ aftermath.
While I am not excited to have been so abruptly awoken from a deep sleep in my warm and cozy bed, after I calmed down I did realize that I learned a few things this morning:
- The phantom pager buzzes waking me up have finally faded, but my Code Blue response reflex from residency is still intact. I was out of bed and fully alert immediately upon hearing the sirens. Thanks, adrenal glands!
- I’m the only one in my family who wakes up when the sirens go off. This is both good (no crabby kids awake too early) and bad (major pressure knowing it’s all on me to alert the family). Knowing this solidifies my plan to have us sleep in the basement if there’s ever a high likelihood of severe weather during the overnight hours.
- Our NOAA weather radio’s date was not set correctly, so if there had been a warning on that system, we probably wouldn’t have gotten it. This is my fault since I was the one who reset the thing last month as the start of my springtime disaster preparation routine. If you already have a weather radio, be sure it is set correctly and has fresh batteries. If you do not have a weather radio in your home, I strongly encourage you to get one. Civil defense sirens are not actually designed to be heard indoors, so having another device that automatically sounds an alarm when there are severe weather warnings can be life-saving. I bought ours after the summer where over 100 tornadoes touched down in Minnesota; it can be hard to pay close attention to weather radar when you’re caring for multiple young children, and I wanted to make sure my husband would not miss important warnings while the family weather geek was at work during prime tornado time in the late afternoon and evening.
- Don’t leave your emergency radio where small kids can get at it, or it may grow legs and disappear. After I checked our weather radio, I figured that my next step to get information would be to listen to MPR or WCCO to hear what was going on. (Since it wasn’t weather-related, I started to wonder if there had been a chemical spill on 35W or on the railroad tracks just south of the Minnesota River, both of which are within a mile of our house, or whether the zombie apocalypse had begun. OK, I wasn’t *really* worried about zombies.) I had been keeping our emergency radio at the top off the basement stairs to grab on the way down in case of a tornado, but it was missing this morning and remains missing despite a fairly thorough search of the house. We’ll probably find it hidden in a box when we finally get around to cleaning out the loft….
- My disaster supplies need to be updated. We’ve added a baby to our family since I did my usual springtime supply check last year–time to add some diapers and baby clothes back into the kit!
The Twitter feed from the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities confirmed that the sirens were malfunctioning. Now that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the system, to be sure, but I’d rather have the sirens malfunction by going off when there’s nothing to worry about to give us a true test of our own preparedness and response than to have the sirens fail to alert us to take action when there’s a real threat. The silver lining of this morning’s much-too-early wake-up is that my disaster plan got a good check-up.
For more information about Severe Weather Awareness Week and the planned tornado drills for April 14, 2016, check out this page on the Minnesota Department of Public Safety website. I hope you will take the opportunity to walk through your family plan during one of these drills or at another time this month.
With Minnesota’s tornado season just around the corner, I also hope you’ll spend a little bit of time on disaster preparation for your own family in the coming weeks. There are a lot of really solid websites out there to walk you through this, but I really like the basic checklists that FEMA provides; there’s a list that is geared toward kids, and gathering supplies for a disaster kit is great project for them to help with!