Severe Weather Preparedness Week: Tips to stay safe during tornado season

lightning over the dark skyPhoto by Ilias Tsoutsoulis on

Emily Ford, Correspondent

As Alabama enters tornado season once again, the university wants students to be prepared.

The University Police Department coordinates with the National Weather Service and the Calhoun County EMA to monitor severe weather events. 

Elizabeth Morrow, the Assistant Director of Emergency Management for the UPD, works to educate and prepare students for different types of disasters. She gives special attention to tornadoes this time of year, as the county has been hit by three tornadoes in the past 10 years.

Some of the most important steps that Morrow recommends taking to prepare for these disasters include:

  • Have a helmet and shoes ready in case of an emergency.
  • Make sure to have multiple sources to monitor the weather.
  • Never put safety at risk by trying to film a tornado.
  • Know where to go before the tornado warning is in effect.

Merrill Hall is JSU’s FEMA certified safe building, able to hold over 2,500 people. Merrill Hall is open to the community during severe weather conditions, and is not exclusively for students. Individuals taking shelter in the building should go to the basement, where they will see signs indicating that the area is a tornado-safe space. This is especially important for anyone living in a mobile home, as it is never advised to stay there during a tornado watch.

However, if individuals are already in a sturdy building such as a residence hall or academic building when there is a tornado on the ground, it is safer to stay in place rather than facing the risk of getting caught in the storm. Residents should go to the lowest available floor.

Automobiles are especially dangerous during high winds, so if an individual is caught in a tornado while in a vehicle, they should seek shelter anywhere outside of the car. Even sheltering in a ditch is better than staying in the car.

The JSU Emergency Alert System is one way that JSU works to notify students of any emergency situations.

It is a mass notification system, capable of sending thousands of messages within minutes through emails, text messages and phone calls. It is designed to provide people with an immediate warning when severe weather is imminent. The alerts are sent out when there is a direct threat, such as a tornado warning, and test alerts are sent out each year to ensure that the system is working properly.

Anyone with a JSU student ID is automatically put in the JSU alert system. However, Morrow warned that changing phone numbers will remove students from the system, so it is important for students to make sure that the correct number is listed.

“We always tell people to go in to their MyJSU account and make sure that their phone number is up to date,” Morrow said.

According to Morrow, there have been instances where students did not receive important weather updates because they had not realized that they needed to update the phone number associated with their account. This is one of the reasons why she encourages people to have multiple ways to monitor the weather.

Additional sources of emergency warnings could include a local news channel, social media, or a NOAA weather radio, which provides 24/7 watches and warnings for severe weather hazards and other emergencies.

Morrow also advises that students should not depend solely on outdoor sirens because they are intended for people who are outdoors. It is common for students to miss outdoor sirens if they are inside a building, so they are encouraged to look for other alerts.

Morrow also expressed her concern that many people do not take these warnings seriously.

“We have two seasons of tornadoes, March through May and November through December, but I always tell people not to get caught up on that because it can happen any time,” Morrow said.

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