Arkansas is notorious for its dramatic weather changes. One minute it can be 75 degrees and sunny and then below freezing the next. With Arkansas on the edge of tornado alley, students need to be prepared for whatever weather comes their way.
Andy Woody, a training officer at the City of Searcy Fire Department, said his top tornado tip is to go inside, wherever that might be, staying on the first floor and staying away from windows.
Woody said there is so much emphasis today on chasing the storm for the best content to post on social media.
“Don’t go for the Pulitzer Prize photo,” Woody said. “When people want to get crazy pictures and crazy videos, they forget the dangers they are putting themselves in.”
When a county is on a tornado watch, conditions are favorable, for tornado formation. Watches normally begin three to five hours before the storm hits. The warning siren is a high-low pitch made to warn people who are outside to find shelter. The fire department only sets off tornado sirens when it is an imminent threat.
“We’re very careful not to cry wolf so that when a storm is here, people will know it is serious,” Woody said.
Searcy does not have specific public storm shelters, but businesses generally have a storm plan. Every structure is occupancy specific.
“We are part of this community team where there is a good network in place for the safety of everyone,” Woody said.
Harding’s Assistant Director of Public Safety Kevin Davis said they use a weather app, the radio, and local weather stations to alert them about lightning and tornadoes. Between those three sources, they track storms that might be heading to Searcy.
“As far as tornadoes go, when a warning is issued for Searcy itself, we send out alerts through Everbridge Emergency Notification System,” Davis said. “People get text messages, phone calls and emails. The system is redundant and tries to contact people in a lot of different ways. We also call the dorm desks and RLCs to let them know we have impending bad weather and that people need to get to shelter.”
Public safety evacuates and locks all buildings on campus that are unsafe. Unsafe areas include the Benson, the Rhodes-Reaves Field House and the Ganus Athletic Center. Buildings with wide open expanses and large sections of roof without extra structural support are the most dangerous. Davis said overall most of the buildings on campus are safe, or at least have a safe area to go to.
“If a tornado were to ever hit on campus, we have an emergency management plan,” Davis said. “We have the plan down where every department would know what to do from helping anyone who was injured to assessing damage to get campus back up and running.”