Tornadoes can happen at any time, but they’re most likely to occur in the spring and summer. While every state has reported tornadoes, they occur most often in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Tornadoes can damage buildings and structures; disrupt transportation, power, water, gas, and communications; throw cars, trees, and other heavy objects into the air; and lead to loss of life.
Use the Emergency Preparedness Manual for Early Childhood Programs to assess your risk and make a custom emergency plan. The manual has information and tools for three distinct phases of emergency preparedness: planning for, responding to, and recovering from a disaster. The mitigation checklist helps find structural and nonstructural hazards in your program and prompts you to say how you'll address the hazards to reduce the risk of damage or injury in case of an emergency.
Develop a Plan
Preparing and planning for emergencies can help save the lives of children, staff, and families. All Head Start programs are required to have emergency preparedness and response plans for natural disasters and other extreme events in or near programs. Each state is also required to have a child care disaster plan, which includes requirements for programs' emergency plans. See Hazard Mapping for Early Care and Education Programs for more information.
If you work in a center, make sure all staff members know their unique roles in a tornado response. Staff assignments are necessary for your disaster preparedness and emergency response plan. The Establishing Your Communication Procedures (Worksheet) can help assign staff roles and responsibilities to fit the needs of your program.
Check Your Emergency Kit
Consider these items when preparing your emergency preparedness kit:
- Keep child information sheets up to date with current phone numbers and contacts.
- Include medication that children and staff need.
- Store the kit according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines, in the basement or wherever the tornado shelter is.
- Use toys and other items to keep children entertained and relieve tension.
- Double-check your emergency supplies after you've practiced your tornado drill to make sure they meet the needs of the children in your program. To learn what else your kit should have, review CFOC Standard 18.104.22.168: First Aid and Emergency Supplies.
Practice Your Plan
Once you've made a plan, it's important to practice your response. The more you practice a plan, the more effective it will be. While states' minimum requirements may be different, all emergency preparedness plans should include regularly scheduled practice drills in the center or family child care home. Drills should include members of the community who may be needed during an emergency, such as first responders, child care health consultants, and emergency management officials. See your state's licensing regulations to review how often your program is required to conduct drills.
Several states require programs to include tornadoes in their emergency plans. For example, see what child care licensing regulations require in these states:
- Iowa: Monthly tornado drills and annual staff training
- Missouri: Tornado plans posted in programs, and shelter-in-place drills practiced at least every three months
- Oklahoma: Tornado plans, shelter-in-place plans, and monthly shelter-in-place drills
Know the Warning Signs of a Potential Tornado
- A dark, greenish sky
- Large, dark, low-lying clouds
- Large hail
- A loud roar, like a freight train
Learn the Lingo
- Tornado watch: Risk of tornado has increased, but timing and location are still uncertain. Watches are intended to set your emergency response plans into motion.
- Tornado warning: Tornado is occurring soon or has a very high chance of occurring. Set your emergency response plan into motion as quickly as possible.
The recommended response to a tornado is to shelter in place. Seek shelter in an interior, protected area of the building on the lowest level possible. This place may be a basement; hallway; a small, windowless interior room; or designated tornado shelter. Shelter-in- Place Response in Centers and Shelter-in-Place Response in Family Child Care Homes have a checklists to follow when a tornado hits.
When sheltering in place, make sure to:
- Keep children away from windows
- Take attendance
- Bring disaster supplies to the designated safe place
Recovery starts when the emergency is over. Often, physical recovery (e.g., repairing damage to a program) takes days, weeks, or months. Use the Damage and Needs Assessment to help find what needs to be repaired in your program. Emotional recovery — helping children, families, and staff cope with the trauma they experienced — can take much longer than physical recovery.
One important part of early recovery is reunification — the safe return of children to their parents or guardians.
To learn more about preparing for tornadoes, visit Ready.gov Tornadoes.
Resource Type: Publication
National Centers: Health, Behavioral Health, and Safety
Last Updated: July 19, 2023