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16 minutes…

  • Published
  • By Capt. Randy TeBeest
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association commanding officer aircraft operations center
May 20 a powerful EF-5 tornado devastated Moore, Okla.

Tornadoes with the EF-5 rating are those with the most intense damage, wind as fast as 261-318 miles per hour and wind gusts over 200 mph. This disaster took the lives of 24 people, nine of them school-aged children. As we listen to this news from the safety of our own living rooms, it's common to perceive this in an almost surreal and detached fashion, particularly when these tragedies take young lives. It's just too difficult for the human mind to realistically consider that such a thing could ever happen here, in our community and to our families.

People in Moore only had 16 minutes to realize that the storm of a lifetime was upon them and to react to try to save their families' lives.

Ask yourself this question, if one minute from now you heard that a massive tornado was going to hit this community in the next 16 minutes, what would you do? Would you spin around in your chair frantically and indecisively? Likely not; you're a professional.

In the event of a natural disaster you probably have certain duties that you are responsible for here on MacDill Air Force Base, actions that you are expected to take or shelter-in-place procedures to perform. But what about your family, would you try to get to your kids at school, your spouse at work or maybe Aunt Mabel at the retirement home?

What if you wanted to do all of that, what would your plan of action be with such little notice and would you even be able to leave your job? Would they know what to do without you?

As professionals, we spend countless hours planning for contingencies and possibilities in our operational communities; we practice and rehearse emergency procedures so we can perform them in our sleep if the worst case happens. We exercise emergency management plans with our units until we can perform them flawlessly and ensure continuity of operations. Even in our personal lives, we plan extensively for our careers, for our kids' college education and for our own retirement.

But, according to the National Center for Disaster Preparedness, the average person doesn't have a plan for survival in the event of a disaster, even among disaster response professionals.

Florida isn't tornado alley, but it ranks fourth in the U.S. for frequency of tornadoes and 19th for tornado fatalities. Additionally, June 1 marks the first official day of hurricane season, something we Floridians are somewhat familiar with.

Although hurricanes don't move as fast as tornadoes, they often bring unpredictable results. Unexpected traffic delays and road closures, unexpected cell phone outages, dangerous flooding, hazardous weather conditions and unplanned shelter problems. If all the things you've become so dependent on in your daily life --your car, your cell phone, your home, your children's school bus, your road home--suddenly become unavailable or unusable in a crisis, will you and your family know what to do? You won't be able to count on much outside assistance; during a major disaster a 911 call for help will likely take days to respond to, if at all.

In the science of predicting tornados, 16 minutes is a lifetime, and a technological miracle. In the context of saving your life and that of your loved ones, it's the blink of an eye.

There is much information available on how to prepare for disasters, plenty of websites, lists of recommended supplies and information hotlines. But if you haven't yet taken a first step to prepare for such an event, my challenge to you is to simply spend a little time discussing what to expect in a disaster with your family and loved ones. Discuss what might not work, what things might look like, alternative ways to communicate, alternative meeting places and other means of transportation.

It doesn't take a lot of effort, if nothing else; spend 16 minutes talking about it. That's a few more minutes of preparation I'm certain the people of Moore wished they'd had.