Why lives Are Lost in
Sever Weather Conditions
Edited 09/2022 to Optimize Cell Phone Display
by Paul Smith, K5PRS
Many lives are saved during severe weather such as tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, etc. thanks to modern, advanced warnings, there are still countless lives lost. Why?
“The tornado that struck Joplin offers important lessons about disaster preparedness,” said National Weather Service Director, Jack Hayes, Ph.D, in the final report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the disastrous tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22, 2011. “Tragically, despite advance tornado outlooks, watches and warnings, 159 people died and more than 1,000 were injured,” Hayes continued.
159 dead and over 1,000 injured despite the warnings. Why? People heard the warnings and took the correct action but many died. Many did not hear the warnings and, of course, many of them were killed or injured. An ER-5 tornado like that one that hit Joplin will do that. Here are a few reasons for that loss of life:
- The need for confirmation from multiple sources
- The “It won’t happen to me” attitude
- Poor communication of the danger
- People not taking the right course of action
- People taking the correct course of action but it was inadequate.
Let’s dig deeper…
Complacency: When warnings are issued and little or no damage occurs, people don’t take warnings seriously the next time and choose not to seek safe shelter or to evacuate from the danger area. Freedom to choose can be deadly.
Need for confirmation from multiple sources: A conclusion was drawn from a National Weather Service (NWS) study that “people may require multiple sources of information throughout their decision-making process to assess their personal risk, and how a single source of information will not necessarily spur protective action.” This one makes no sense to me…just change the channel!
“It won’t happen to me” attitude: Studies have shown that many people have the perception that severe weather events always happen to “somebody else.” For example, they understand that a tornado is ripping through their county, but they don’t think it will hit their own house or since the hurricane always seems to move to the East, they are safe or the water will not really get as high as predicted. Yep, playing the odds can get you killed.
Poor communication of the danger: As was the case in the Indiana State Fair concert stage collapse, warnings may be issued by the NWS, but authorities entrusted to pass the information on to the public may not appropriately convey the seriousness of the potential danger and energize people to take the appropriate action. You would think that somebody in that crowd would have had Weather Alerts activated on their phone…hint, hint!
Not taking the right course of action: People may accurately perceive the warning and understand they are in danger but they decide on the wrong course of action. For tornadoes, we are advised to go to an interior, windowless room, usually a bathroom where we should get in the bathtub and cover ourselves with a mattress. For an EFS-5 tornado? Bad decision.
The ‘It won’t happen to me’ attitude‘ is a natural human instincts or feeling but too often people do not consider the consequence of losing control of the serious situation. This often results from an “I’m busy, leave me alone.” or “I don’t have time for this, I’ll be fine.” attitude and results from insufficient information.
The field of meteorology continues to advance and the warnings and predictions are improving and becoming more accurate and timely. The hope is that this will limit the issues of complacency. But what can be done about the other issues mentioned? People will continue to not heed the warnings. The average lead time for major tornadoes in 2011 was 24 minutes but people continue to stay in mobile homes which are proven to be unsafe in tornadoes and hurricanes. People still get caught on the interstate highways.
Where are things going wrong?
According to the report “Effective Disaster Warnings” by the National Science and Technology Council and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, “warnings are effective only if they are accurate and result in appropriate action.”
The following is an excerpt from the report:
“The warning response process is categorized into the following components:
- Perceiving the warning (hear, see, feel)
- Understanding the warning
- Believing that the warning is real and that the contents are accurate
- Confirming the warning from other sources or people
- Personalizing the warning
- Deciding on a course of action
- Acting on that decision”
This indicates that the warning process is complex. The report made three key findings about the effectiveness of warnings:
- Warnings are most effective when delivered to just the people at risk. If people not at risk are warned, they will tend to ignore future warnings. Thus, if tornado or flash-flood warnings, for example, are issued for a county or larger region, but only a small percentage of the people who receive the warning are ultimately affected, most people conclude that such warnings are not likely to affect them.
- If warnings that are not followed by the anticipated event are inconvenient, people are likely to disable the warning device. For example, if you are awakened in the middle of the night to be warned of several events that do not ultimately affect you, you are likely to disable the warning device.
- Appropriate response to warning is most likely to occur when people have been educated about the hazard and have developed a plan of action well before the warning.
That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?
Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.