This post is written in memory of those who lost their lives in the Enterprise tornado on March 1st, 2007, and in honor of the survivors whose wounds are still healing.
I’m always amazed at how vastly different climate and weather conditions can be in different sections of our country. Hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, droughts and things of the like affect so many of us throughout the year, but not everyone experiences the same conditions. Hurricanes rock the gulf coast every summer, but people in the plains are obviously unaffected. The northeast may get pounded by snow, but Alabamians could barely tell you what a snowflake looks like. Weather is often a tricky subject for me. While I want to delight in its beauty and mystery, I had an encounter with inclement weather in 2007 at the age of 16 years old that shook me to my core, and just like an earthquake, I’m dealing with the ripple effects years later that will likely affect me for many more years to come.
On March 1st, 2007, an EF4 tornado ripped through my high school while school was still in session. 8 students lost their lives, along with 1 elderly lady in the community. Though the image below is a bit fuzzy, you can clearly make out the destruction that weather is capable of. Teenagers and staff walked out of the rubble that day with their lives temporarily torn apart, mourning over the ones that did not make it out alive. I’ll never forget the feeling. I’ll never forget the weight I carried as I walked through these hallways trying to evacuate. It was pure devastation, and that’s a weight that is so, so heavy.
People mourn differently. Just like the weather, our general response to trauma can often be a mysterious one. You can pull a panel of 10 of my classmates that experienced the tornado firsthand and pick their brains about how they feel now that we’re 12 years removed from the incident. All of us would have a different response. For me, my journey to healing has been more of a winding road than I though it would be. Roughly 5 or so years after the tornado, I felt like I was more at peace with the circumstances. My emotional wounds were healing, and I could face the anniversary of the tornado with enough strength to not let my sadness creep back in. Emotions can be ruthlessly fickle, unfortunately. On my 12th anniversary as a survivor, I feel crippled with anxiety caused my numerous triggers that I haven’t always had.
Things like gusts of warm wind, sirens, certain smells, cloud shapes, the weather channel jingle chiming in to report the local forecast – all of these things are stressors that have crept up on me over the years that trigger fear and anxiety in my life. I’ve dealt with every emotion you can think of in response to this weight that I carry. Fear has been an ever present thorn in my flesh, but as I draw closer to God and share the struggles He knows I carry, I have begun to find joy that I cannot describe or explain. Learning to count my struggles as joy has been pivotal for me. For years I was so confused by the notion of counting my sadness and sorrow as joy, but God is unfolding my story bit by bit, and I believe with every ounce of me that I was spared by his mercy and grace for reasons only He can reveal to me. There’s so much joy in that notion to me.
Because I am a survivor of a majorly destructive and fatal weather event, I feel almost a sense of responsibility to share a little bit of knowledge from a survivors perspective of steps you can take to prepare yourself when you’re in the face of dangerous weather conditions. I wouldn’t wish this sort of trauma on anybody, and if I can help prevent one person from carrying that weight, I’m eager to do it.
I’ve prepared a list of items that I feel are necessary to keep on hand in your safe place during a tornado warning. You can find more extensive supply lists on places like FEMA.gov and your local weather stations, but I wasn’t terribly crazy about the things they think you need. I felt like they took more of a doomsday approach by recommending supplies to last you several days, as well as items that you may need to survive “in the wild” so to speak. That’s not my mission here. You’re not going to be in your safe place for that long. More than likely, if your house is hit by a tornado, you will not be trapped there for days. Hours, perhaps, but not days. This list contains things you need during your stay in your safe place, and things you need immediately after. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the things that ranked pretty important in my mind as I sat down and planned out the kit for my own family to use.
- Flashlight or Battery Powered Lantern – If bad weather strikes at night, the power is more than likely going to go out at some point. If a tornado strikes, the power is definitely going to be out. Having a flashlight or lantern handy will help keep children calm in the midst of the storm, and if the worst happens and you have to evacuate your home after a tornado strike, you will be able to see how to get out as safely as possible. If there are multiple people in your family, make sure you have multiple flashlights.
- Portable Weather Radio – When the weather goes out, you’ll need a way to receive important information about weather conditions. This particular radio has 3 methods of charging if power is unavailable. It also serves as a flashlight and a phone charger, and it’s pretty compact in size so it takes up minimal room!
- Extra batteries – Take note of what types of batteries are needed in your flashlights, plus any handheld electronics any children may be using during the storm. Keeping a few extras on hand can help prevent bad situations from becoming even worse. Also keep a note of when they expire so you can swap them out every few years as needed.
- Extra Shoes – This is something that can easily be forgotten. When you’re heading to your safe place in an emergency, it’s not always intuitive to grab shoes for every member of the family. Your emergency preparedness kit is the perfect place to store those shoes that you’ve been meaning to donate or the shoes that don’t have a ton of life left in them. Closed-toe shoes are necessary if an evacuation is needed. Skip the flip flops, they won’t do you much good if you find yourself climbing over rubble and debris. Have a pair for each member of the house, and keep track of children’s sizes as they frequently outgrow them.
- Hair Ties – This is another item that is frequently forgotten, but definitely comes in handy if things take a rough turn.
- Poncho – If evacuation is needed, you’ll need something to keep you dry when you’re exposed to the elements. These are very inexpensive and are compact when brand new. Make sure you have enough for all members of the family.
- First Aid Kit – If you happen to experience a tornado first hand, chances of you sustaining an injury – even a very mild one – are high. Broken glass shards, fiberglass insulation, boards and all sorts of debris are flying through the air very quickly within a matter of seconds. Having things like bandages, gauze, medical tape, and sterile wipes can really come in handy if medical attention is needed until help can arrive.
- Extra Cell Phone Charger – Having access to your phone and weather apps is incredibly important during severe weather, and using such apps can drain a battery more quickly than you think. Keep a spare cell phone charger close by. If a tornado were to hit in your area, it is likely that you will be without power to charge your phone for a while.
- Hard Hat or Helmet – When I was a child, I used to roll my eyes when my mother made us put on a helmet when we entered our safe place during severe weather. I felt like I looked silly, and I didn’t truly see the point. Friends, please hear me on this one. If you do not have a certified storm shelter and are taking cover in an interior portion of your home, you need something more than a pillow to protect your skull. Why am I so serious about this? In the very middle of the tornado that ripped through my high school, I had my knees up in front of me and my arms covering my face. There was so much debris, I could barely open my eyes. However, for a split second, I pried my eyes open long enough to watch a cinder block fall directly in front of me. I could reach out and touch it. Imagine if I had been scooted forward by just a few inches. Praise God for his watchful hand over me. In the midst of any storm, we are not in control. Your very house could fall on top of you. Please protect your head.
- Face Mask – This is an item that is only needed if the worst happens. When the student had to evacuate the high school, there was a gas leak and building materials such as concrete dust and insulation created a dense fog over the school. We were breathing in these things while we tried to get out. If you have to evacuate, have a mask on hand or some sort of covering to put over your mouth for protection.
- Pillows and Blankets – It’s possible that you could be in your safe place for what feels like a long time. Try to make yourself comfortable to help reduce anxiety during bad weather. If you have children in the home, keeping them comfortable is helpful. Because tornadoes occur when a cold front meets a warm from and creates instability in the air, the temperature after a tornado is usually a bit more cool than it was before the tornado. Keep a blanket on hand to bundle up in if needed. Pillows can also be used to cover and protect yourself (but please don’t neglect getting a helmet!)
- Snacks and Water – I don’t think it’s necessary to pack multiple gallons of water and enough food to last you two weeks. Websites with similar lists to this one may disagree, but for all intents and purposes, you aren’t going to be in your storm shelter for weeks, and you really only need enough snacks to pacify you or your children until the storm is over. Keeping several bottles of water on hand is still a great idea, though. If not for drinking, it can be used to clean wounds and wash off debris if needed. I keep a few shelf stable snacks in a zipper bag in our kit and made a note to check the expiration date on them every year and swap them out as needed.
- Coloring/Activity Books – When packing our kit, I tried to keep my children in mind by packing a few things that could help keep their mind busy during severe weather. Coloring books and crayons are very inexpensive and take up little room in the kit. If your kids are older, a deck of playing cards might be a good option.
- Daily Medications – If you are displaced from your home due to storm damage, you will likely not be able to successfully (or safely) return to your home to dig out any important medications you need. If you’re able, reserve a few days worth of your medications and properly label them. Keep them in child proof containers if needed. You may ask your doctor for samples of your medications to keep on hand for emergency purposes if it’s too hard to portion out extra doses to set aside.
- Copies of Personal Records – It’s a great idea to have a few copies of personal and medical records on hand in case a storm does come through and cause damage to your home. While most people keep these records in a safe, you may not have access to that safe for a while. If an injury occurs, having paperwork on hand that lists blood type, allergies, medications, etc. can prove to be very invaluable during emergency situations.
- Phone Numbers – These days, we’re all pretty guilty of not having phone numbers memorized because our cell phones memorize them for us. But let’s just say you don’t have access to the stored numbers on your cell phone because it died or has been displaced. Jot the following numbers down on an index card to have as a backup, just in case you find yourself in a situation where you need them. Local EMA, Insurance Agent, Power Company and other utility companies (in case you need to stop services because of damage) Immediate family members phone numbers.
- Storage Container or Backpack to Store Items – I stored all of these items in two plastic totes that fit under a piece of furniture in my storm room. In hindsight, I probably should have gone with a backpack in case I need to evacuate. Having a backpack means you can easily sling your supplies on your back and still remain hands free in case of evacuation. I may swap out my totes in place for a backpack in the near future, but use whatever you have available to keep these items together in one specific place.
When my husband and I formed the blueprints for our new home back in 2016, I put in a request to have a place set apart inside my home that would serve as a safe place for my family. Knowing this was costly, I was a little unsure about how to go about making this dream a reality. My husband didn’t even question my desire to have a safe place. He’s seen my struggles firsthand, and he knew that providing a safe room would be a great tool in easing my anxiety during bad weather. What a mighty good man. When our foundation was poured, a steel-reinforced cinder block room was crafted. It sits right across from our bedroom. I’ll never forget the moment I saw this room standing on that slab for the first time. Having confidence that I can provide a shield from the weather for my babies has been life altering for me. Thank you, God, for this blessing.
I was able to take a brick from my high school as it was being demolished. I had a plaque engraved to fit on the brick that says “In memory of those who lost their lives in the Enterprise tornado on March 1st, 2007” on one side. The other side says “In honor of the survivors whose hearts are still healing.” It sits in my safe room next to my weather radio to serve as a reminded of my healing journey and where God has brought me from since that day 12 years ago.
My husband also built a sign for me that has a verse from one of my favorite hymns that has always been a great source of comfort for me during bad weather. It was so important to me to make my safe place feel like a seamless part of my home. I didn’t want it to look dark and dungeon-y. I wanted it to be peaceful. I think I’ve accomplished just that. I watch my oldest daughter play in there from time to time. It’s such a beautiful sight in my eyes. I’m so thankful.
Whether your safe spot in your home is a stand alone room, a bathroom tub, a closet, an interior hallway or a basement, I encourage you to gather the supplies I outlined above and tuck them away in your space for when inclement weather occurs. You may live in a part of the country where tornadoes don’t occur, and that’s okay! Perhaps this kit will inspire you to craft your own weather kit appropriate for whatever weather conditions you typically face in your area. If you are ever faced with a tornado warning, listen to the weathermen. Get in your safe place. Be prepared. You never know exactly what the weather will do, and you never know how long one storm can last in your own life.