Don’t let social distancing stop you from seeking shelter

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — With recent severe storms ripping across several southern states, those needing to take refuge in a public storm shelter face a unique dilemma. Which is more important, social distancing or seeking refuge from a tornado?

As bizarre as that question might sound, it’s just another issue Americans must navigate during our country’s COVID-19 outbreak and its aftermath – a collective reality that is bleeding over into spring storm season.

"While it is true that many people are hunkered down at home these days, essential workers must still report to work, says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of Safe Electricity. "Tornadoes do not observe social distancing or wait to drop until everyone is in their own home."

On Easter Sunday, tornadoes barreled down on several states, killing at least 33 people and wreaking havoc on homes and businesses along the way. The twisters caused damage along the power distribution path, causing more than one million homes and businesses to be without power.

More than 60 tornadoes were reported as the storms spread from Texas and Arkansas, across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Carolinas, and Tennessee.

The American Meteorological Society (AMS) released tornado sheltering guidelines and recommended individuals “not let the virus prevent you from taking refuge during a tornado,” says Hollinshead. "A public tornado shelter is the best location for protection; just practice social distancing and disease prevention guidelines as best as possible."

Although two crises are definitely not better than one, these unique times call for preparedness, and plenty of it.

“Because April, May and June are the peak months for tornado activity, make sure you have a weather plan in place and determine the best option for protection,” says Hollinshead. “Determine the best place in your home, which is ideally in the basement away from windows, and if not, an interior room without windows. If you are away from home, be sure to seek a safe place such as a public shelter, the interior of a building, or a hard-top car.”

After the storm passes, Safe Electricity recommends the following safety precautions:

  • Be aware that downed power lines, stray wires, and debris touching them all have the potential to deliver a fatal shock.
  • Just because power lines are damaged does not mean they are dead or de-energized. Stay away and instruct others to do the same.
  • Never enter a flooded basement if electrical outlets are under water. The water could be energized.
  • Do not turn power off if you must stand in water to do so. Call your power company, who will dispatch an employee to turn off power at the meter.
  • Before entering storm-damaged buildings, make sure electricity and gas are turned off.
  • Do not use water-damaged electronics.
  • If you are driving and come along a downed power line, stay away and warn others to do the same. Pull over and call 911 to report the downed line.
  • If you clean up outdoors after a storm, do not use electronic equipment when it is raining or the ground is wet.

Source: Erin Hollinshead, Executive Director, Safe Electricity
Writer: Ann Augspurger, Communications Director, Safe Electricity

Safe Electricity is the award-winning, public awareness program of the Energy Education Council, a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit organization established in 1952 on the campus of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. With offices located in Springfield, Safe Electricity operates under the University of Illinois Extension and is led by a board of directors. Since the Safe Electricity program was created in 2001, it has provided thousands safety-minded resources to its more than 500 utility members from across the country to help save lives and reduce injuries.