The MGH will soon roll out its newly developed Tornado Protocol. Developed by the Center for Disaster Medicine – which oversees all preparedness and emergency management efforts at the MGH – the protocol outlines hospital plans and procedures in the event of the unexpected weather emergency.

“Forecasting tornadoes is still very difficult, so there are usually only a few minutes of warning – or less – when we recognize that one has formed,” says Rob Krupa, planning, training and exercise program manager for the Center for Disaster Medicine. “Because of this, it’s especially important to have a detailed response plan that we can use in a moment’s notice to ensure rapid action. The safety and security of our patients, their families and all of our staff is of greatest concern during a tornado, so we will be hosting training sessions and exercise drills throughout the hospital to review precautions, shelter options and how to recover after the storm hits.”

While still fairly uncommon in New England, more than 1,200 tornadoes occur in the United States every year, including one reported in Iowa earlier this week. And, in recent years, Massachusetts has been hit with multiple tornadoes, including a twister confirmed in Webster this past August. Four years ago, on June 28, 2014, a tornado damaged 65 homes and businesses in Revere, Massachusetts with its 120-mph winds, and on June 1, 2011, one touched down in Springfield, resulting in three deaths and an estimated $140 million worth of damages.

Krupa says the MGH Center for Disaster Medicine worked closely with city and state officials to create the hospital’s response plan, and received valuable insight from leaders at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Missouri, which was destroyed during a 2011 multi-vortex tornado.

“September marks National Emergency Preparedness Month, so it’s the perfect opportunity to continue the conversation about the best ways to prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters,” Krupa says. 

Tornado watches and warnings

Tornado Watch:
Conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area.
Size can vary.
Duration: 4 to 8 hours.
Normally issued well in advance of severe weather.

Tornado Warning:
A tornado is indicated by radar and people in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately.
Stay away from windows, doors and walls that face the building’s exterior.
Duration: Roughly 30 minutes.

What to do during a tornado warning:

Clinical Areas: Move ambulatory patients into their bathroom, into the hallway or other internal location away from windows.
Bed-bound patients will be placed in the flat position, as tolerated. Turn bed so headboard is between patient and any windows. Protect patient with blankets or pillows.
Maintain accountability of all patients and employees until Tornado Warning has expired.

Non-Clinical Areas: Go to a shelter area, such as a basement or the lowest level in the building.
If you cannot get to shelter area, go to the center of an interior room – such as a closet or interior hallway – away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls.
Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside.
Stay away from windows.

This article was originally published in the 09/07/18 Hotline issue.