FORT LEE, Va. – An installation-wide tornado drill is set for March 8, starting at 9:45 a.m., and all Team Lee members are expected to participate.
Neighboring communities will similarly take part in this emergency preparedness event that’s conducted annually. It is meant to educate the public about the very real year-round threat of tornadic activity in Virginia and emphasize how thorough planning and early preparedness can prevent harm or the possible loss of lives.
Team Lee members will be notified the event is underway through emergency communication channels, including post-wide email, the “Alert” message system, and the “big voice” outdoor speaker system. The announcements will be preceded by the words “test, test, test.”
“As soon as the announcement is made, community members should respond in the same manner as an actual tornado warning,” instructed Thomas Loden, installation emergency manager for the Fort Lee Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS). “Go to the designated shelter-in-place location. Discuss the response plan. Anything that’s proactive in this area will put participants in a better position to deal with an actual emergency.
“Keep in mind also, this is an all-encompassing preparedness drill,” he added. “Everyone needs to participate, including family housing occupants and those engaged in administrative activities.”
Individuals who take emergency drills seriously are more likely to follow up with well-thought-out response plans that enable them to react quickly and decrease potential harm to themselves, their coworkers or their families, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It recommends that exercise participants be particularly mindful of anything that would hinder their response time or capability. Small details like checking the location and contents of emergency response and first aid kits is considered an essential element of these rehearsal drills.
According to statistics found online, 1,280 confirmed tornadoes touched down across the U.S. last year. The deadliest by far, killing 88 people, was the well-publicized “quad-state” event, Dec. 10-11. A supercell storm system produced “dozens of tornadoes including at least two EF4s” that carved a 250-mile destructive path from northeastern Arkansas into Western Kentucky.
Tragically, supercell storms that once occurred every decade or so are now becoming an annual event. In 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website detailed a particularly deadly series of storms (32 fatalities) that occurred in mid-April when a weather system traveling north from Texas to Maryland produced at least 140 confirmed tornadoes include three EF4s. August of that year was another busy month, NOAA reported, with 161 sightings, nearly double the average. Tropical Storm Isaias, the remnants of a hurricane that slammed the Gulf Coast, was particularly troublesome for North Carolina and southeastern and central Virginia where at least 10 tornadoes reportedly touched down.
“Hopefully, everyone will key-in on not only the immediacy of those statistics, but also the proximity and timing,” Loden observed. “There should be no question about the likelihood of tornadoes in this area or why emergency awareness and rehearsal are essential during this time of the year. As a team, we have to be prepared – that’s an undisputable fact.”
Loden shared the following tornado awareness tips and safety reminders that Fort Lee community members should keep in mind:
• Know the terms – a watch means weather conditions are favorable for the formation of a tornado; a warning means one has been sighted or is forming according to Doppler radar. The best time to take action is when the weather watch is issued. Warnings indicate imminent danger to life and property, and individuals should be moving to a location that offers greater protection such as a basement, storm cellar or an interior room without windows like a closet, hallway or bathroom.
• Know your community’s warning network – at Fort Lee it includes the “big voice” outdoor speaker system, internal voice alarms in many administrative buildings, the ArmyFortLee Facebook page, and the Alert message system. Service members, DOD Civilians and contactors can register for Alert by signing in with their Common Access Card to any computer connected to the government network. Visit alert.csd.disa.mil/AlertSplashPage to complete the process. If any difficulties are encountered, seek assistance from your organization’s computer technician or the personnel manager assigned to most units.
• Get a kit – with careful thought, it will be useful regardless of the hazard. Just plan for what you or your family would need if basic services like electricity and water were not available for several days, and running out to the store, bank or gas station was not an option. For a checklist of recommended preparedness kit items, visit www.ready.gov.
• Make a plan – do you know where to go if told to take shelter? Can the area be improved to increase its utility and decrease the potential of injury? Does everyone in the office/home know where the emergency supplies are kept? Who is going to remove/secure outdoor items to keep them from becoming projectiles? Is there a plan to account for all personnel/family members after the storm? These are just a few of the questions a good response plan should answer.
• Be informed – knowing what to do before, during and after an emergency is a critical part of being prepared and may make all the difference when seconds count. Use rehearsal drills to improve response times and increase awareness of potential problems. Understand the threat and pay attention to important details like evacuation routes and the location of community shelters. Understand the installation’s response plans that are detailed at home.army.mil/lee/index.php/about/hazardous-weather-guide. Emergency preparedness is both concrete actions and a state of mind.
Throughout the week of March 7-11, daily severe-weather-preparedness fact sheets will be posted to the ArmyFortLee Facebook page. Community members are invited to read this information, share it with others and even print and post the pages to unit bulletin boards, home refrigerators or common area walls where they will serve as reminders to always be emergency weather aware.