Mother Nature can display her awesome power in the spring and summer in Kansas with powerful thunderstorms, torrential rains and the occasional tornado. March is Severe Weather Preparedness Month, which begins with Severe Weather Awareness Week March 4 through 8.

Chris Hallenbeck, Fort Riley Emergency Management Coordinator with the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, is responsible for helping Soldiers, families and the civilian workforce be as prepared as possible.

"I think overall awareness of the environment and the conditions around you is a very important thing, especially when it comes to this time of year as we get into the severe weather time of season," he said. "Just understanding -- as far as the preparedness side, the main concept is -- that by having a family or an individual be prepared for an emergency or some type of disaster is going to help take the burden off the first responders."

Severe weather can strike the Fort Riley area any time of year, Hallenbeck said.

The last major tornado to hit the contonment area was in 2005, Hallenbeck said.

A large Enhanced Fujita four tornado ripped a 26 mile path through Ottawa and Dickinson Counties.
"Sometimes when you think about severe weather season for the spring you have a tendency to focus on tornados alone," Hallenbeck said.

This does not mean that Fort Riley is immune to the threat of tornados, with several reported in the range training area over the years with no damage.

Air Force Maj. Eric Miller, Detachment 2, 3rd Weather Squadron, 3rd Air Support Operations Group, said while their main mission is to prepare weather forecasters to work with and integrate into Army training, they also provide weather services for the Fort Riley contonment area. He said the most important thing for people to know is the difference between the levels of severe weather forecasting.

"Know the difference between a watch and warning," he said. "A watch means the potential exists for something to happen. That's like having all the ingredients out there to bake a cake. If it's a watch, we might do something here; but it's basically to prepare yourself in your mind that you might need to take action later. Where a warning means this is going to happen."

Following the Ready Army guidelines can help: Be Informed, Make a Plan, Build a Kit and Get Involved.

Be informed
Being informed is knowing the hazards in your area, knowing the local emergency warning systems and knowing the locations of emergency weather shelters.

Hallenbeck also said knowing local hazards will make individuals more prepared during an emergency, weather related or not.

Hallenbeck suggests one of the ways to stay informed is to sign up for the Fort Riley AtHoc emergency notification system. This system sends out alerts by text, voice or email.

"…it is very important to get signed up on that," he said. "Not just for our Soldiers, but our civilian workforce, and our family members."

For those living off the installation, there are also county notification options, Hallenbeck said.
Another step in being informed is knowing basic county geography.

"Knowing the counties around you is very important," Hallenbeck said. "Because when weather alerts are being published by the National Weather Service you want to know if that county is close -- you want to start taking action. If it is way out west or way up north you can gauge yourself on what you need to do."

People also need to know where they are within the county, Miller said.

"The whole county might be alerted, but it might be alerted for touching only the corner of the county," he said. "That comes from the National Weather Service, here locally, we issue the watches, warnings and advisories specific to post. While, obviously, the National Weather Service is covering this area as well we have forecasters, 24/7, just focus on the Fort Riley area."

Make a plan
"When making your plan, you want to make sure you're not just thinking about yourself," Hallenbeck said.

It is also important to include any children and pets when executing the plan during practice, Hallenbeck said.

"If you are at work and your children are at school, you're at work and your family is at home -- think about different plans on how you would actually execute your plan together."

Hallenbeck recommends having a meeting place for after the disaster in case of separation and loss of communication.

The most important part of any plan, Hallenbeck said, is to practice it with the whole family.
"Don't just make a plan and put it away -- practice the plan, talk with your family about the plan." he said.

Build a kit
"In your kit, you need to look at the specific needs of your family in addition to the standard emergency kit recommendations," Hallenbeck said

The recommendation from Ready Army is a three-day supply of food, water and other emergency supplies to include any other needs of the family.

"Do you have any medical needs, any special family member needs, any pet needs? Dealing with a pet, you also want to have a kit for your pet," he said. "Again, it all goes back to taking that burden off those first responders who are there to help. If you are prepared, that alleviates some of the initial response requirements."

What about children and their needs?

"It is important to get them involved," Hallenbeck said. "If you have a young school-aged child those needs are going to be different from say, your teenage child. Always think about the different age levels and what additional items they may need. One recommendation we have with children is to get a backpack and make your child a backpack of their items."

Get involved
Fort Riley has opportunities to get involved within the community, including ways to volunteer with emergency management.

"Getting involved is a big umbrella," Hallenbeck said. "We have the Community Emergency Response Team. That's where you are helping your community out during a disaster, emergency or even a non-emergency event. Basically, just volunteering within. People can also get involved through the Army Community Service office or with Family Readiness Groups, Hallenbeck said.

One way to get involved is by taking part in the statewide tornado drill March 5 at 10 a.m. Sirens on Fort Riley and throughout the state, will sound as if a tornado warning is activated.

Hallenbeck recommends taking the steps in your individual, family and work plans to know what to do depending on location.

"I hope that you have a plan and part of your plan includes the statewide safety drill on the fifth at 10 a.m.," he said. Really, just keep in mind with a tornado you want to get to the lowest place, most interior area of the building away from the exterior walls and windows. That's the general rule of thumb from the National Weather Service."

Hallenbeck will set up displays in the main Exchange during March where he will have information and answer questions. For more information, visit