Drilling for Tornadoes in Chester County

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross is holding a Tornado Readiness Drill in Chester County this weekend.

Wow. . . . really?!

When I was a kid growing up in the Philadelphia region we didn’t talk much about tornadoes. These strange, powerful, spiraling storms were something that happened to other people in some distant part of our land, or better yet, a magical force that dropped a house on a Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

I maintained this state of blissful ignorance until 2005, when a Microburst (an extreme weather event similar to a tornado), dropped about 35 ancient trees in our town in northern New Jersey. Trees came down on several houses, on almost every main road and on power lines. It took only five minutes of extreme summer weather to make an idyllic suburban landscape treacherous for everyone and impenetrable for emergency responders.

Tornadoes popped up in some unusual places in the summer of 2011. One roared down the main street of Springfield, Massachusetts in the first few days of June. You read that right, my friends – Massachusetts. It was one of 19 tornadoes in New England that day. Four people were killed in those storms. On May 19th, 2011, in Northeast Philadelphia, a tornado touched down in the mid-afternoon with 75 mile per hour winds and a 100 by 300 ft. path of destruction.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross takes the increased threat of tornadoes in our region very seriously. We strive to prevent disasters, prepare for their aftermath and alleviate the suffering of victims. In order to succeed, we must practice. We do so by conducting Readiness Drills at locations in our vicinity that may need assistance in the event of a weather related emergency. To this end, we will conduct a Tornado Readiness Drill on Saturday, June 2 at Avon Grove High School in West Grove, Pa. between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. The Chester County Department of Emergency Services, Chester County Animal Response Team, Medical Reserve Corps, and Chester County Food Bank, will take part in training volunteers to respond to a hypothetical severe tornado where homes and businesses are destroyed and hundreds of people need a safe place to go.

Last year, a hurricane readiness drill (pictures above) proved invaluable when Hurricane Irene hit our region in August. Participants who practiced critical disaster relief skills like sheltering, food distribution, providing basic medical and childcare needs, caring for pets, and overall disaster response decision making were better able to anticipate problems and meet the needs of those affected. Although these are weather based drills, they help us practice our response to any large scale disaster.

If you are one of our generous donors, you not only support our response to disasters, your donation also helps us prepare for events we don’t know about yet. We could not hold these practice drills without your contributions and we are so grateful for your support of our efforts to be better prepared in the event of an emergency.

If last year, and indeed the last 10 years are any indication, tornadoes are no longer something that Philadelphia area children wonder about in ignorance. They are now part of our world. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Red Cross will be there, and with the knowledge we gain from preparedness drills like the one in Chester County this weekend, we will be ready.

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