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This article appeared in the Nov. 5, 2019, issue of the student newsletter.
With 10 confirmed tornadoes (so far) on Sunday, Oct. 20, and nine confirmed tornadoes that occurred on Dec. 26, 2015, many of us have started to form the opinion that the tornado season in Texas covers all 12 months of the year. Given the heightened awareness concerning severe weather (which includes tornadoes) and at least the appearance of no defined severe weather season in North Texas, now would be a good time to review steps that can protect you during severe weather.
If you are at a Dallas County Community College District location during severe weather, remain calm. Do not exit the building if you are already in a building. If you are in the parking lot or at one of the athletic fields, go to the nearest permanent building to seek shelter. Video footage of vehicles being flipped multiple times during storms that is often shown on news programs and online demonstrates why you do not want to shelter in a vehicle during severe weather.
If you are inside a DCCCD building, proceed to one of the "Safer Zone" areas marked with a sign for easy identification. These areas are chosen because they most closely meet the National Weather Service's guidelines for safe zones, which can also be described as rooms with no exterior walls or windows. Always remember to close the door to prevent injury from flying debris.
If you are at home during severe weather, find an interior room or space — preferably on the first floor. Put as many walls between you and the outdoors as possible. Avoid windows, a bathroom or closet is often a good choice. Laying down in an interior hallway is something to consider if your options are limited. Look for spaces that can provide protection, examples include: lying down inside a bathtub, getting under a mattress, positioning yourself under a good strong table and wearing a sports or motorcycle helmet. Protect your feet even if you are at home. You will want a good, sturdy pair of shoes that will stay on your feet if you have to walk through storm debris.
If you happen to be out and about when severe weather occurs, always keep in mind your options, as well as what has been shown not to work during severe weather. In a large box or grocery store, find a small, enclosed area to shelter in (if possible). Structures with large open spaces are particularly vulnerable to collapse. When traveling, the option of sheltering under a bridge or highway overpass may seem like a good option if you are stuck in your car, but the narrow passage can act like a funnel and actually amplify the winds. If you are caught out in the open and no permanent shelter is nearby, you may still have some limited options to use as a last resort. Stay away from trees or other free-standing objects, get down to the lowest-lying area you can find (a ditch is traditionally mentioned) and cover your head.
Students and employees who own newer smartphones are set up to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). You should receive these messages unless you have changed your phone's settings. These messages include severe and/or extreme weather alerts. WEA are emergency messages sent by government authorities through your mobile carrier. The weather warnings come from the National Weather Service (NWS).
If you receive a weather message telling you to "take shelter," then do so immediately and inform those near you. Be aware that DCCCD Central Dispatch, police officers and emergency management personnel receive warnings from the NWS roughly the same time as you receive the WEA messages. It will take a short period of time for the district to re-broadcast the message in its notification systems, if the message specifically effects a DCCCD location.
The district's notification systems also may be affected by power outages or system failures, so always follow the instructions from a reliable source such as WEA.
If you are looking for some of the more traditional signs of severe weather the dark and/or green sky along with increasing pressure on your ears and a loud freight-train sound are very strong clues that it is time to take immediate shelter without delay.
On the subject of emergency notification messages, DCCCD Emergency Alerts is an e-mail, text message and phone system that alerts you when icy weather or utility outages cancel classes or in the event of other types of emergencies. The system also sends the messages to the RAVE Guardian App — the new mobile app designed with your security in mind. The new app, rolled out by the DCCCD police department, includes information specific to district police activities, as well as the ability to call or chat with DCCCD police through the app and receive notifications in case of an emergency, such as a lockdown or campus closure.
Finally, the app also includes a virtual escort for users who may be walking to their cars alone and want police to know they arrived safely. When activated, the user's location is sent to DCCCD police for the duration of its activation, and users can turn it off at any time upon reaching their destination.
For more information about emergency alerts from Dallas County Community College District, please visit dcccd.edu/alerts. The Rave Guardian App is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.