As we head into the spring months, the risk of severe thunderstorms increases across Kansas, including the risk for tornadoes. Unfortunately, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people who rely on public sheltering from tornadoes could be faced with the difficult choice of sheltering from the tornado in a community shelter or refraining from going to the shelter in order to limit potential exposure to COVID-19.
At this time, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management recommends that your first priority should be to protect yourself from a potential tornado. However, the decision to open a community shelter will ultimately be at the discretion of local officials. Before you decide to go to a community shelter, first check with local officials to ensure they will be open. This should be done ahead of any thunderstorm, well before any warnings are issued. If you rely on community shelters, now is a good time to explore other options that will help keep you safe from a tornado while also limiting your potential exposure to COVID-19.
The Free Press checked in with the towns in Marion County and all but one stated that they shelters were open. As Randy Frank, Marion Country Director of Emergency Management said, all shelters should be open because “life safety is always primary.”
Kansas Governor Laura Kelley also said similar things.
“We should not let fear of the coronavirus blind us to the danger of an imminent tornado,” Governor Laura Kelly said. “If you have to seek refuge in a community shelter, try to practice social distancing and other precautions as much as possible to minimize your risk.”
“The onset of tornado season is also a good time to take stock of your family’s emergency supplies and review your emergency plan,” Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli, the adjutant general and director of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, said. “Above all, don’t let the threat of potential virus exposure outweigh the real threat of an approaching tornado.”
Frank also suggest taking advantage of the downtime at home to prepare for storms and the need to take shelter.
“Make preparedness kits. Check with your doctor and pharmacist for medication samples. And make bags for kids to carry, too. They like being part of the mission. Take selfies in your safe place and post them on social media,” said Frank.