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A severe thunderstorm can produce a tornado, winds of at least 58 mph, and/or hail at least ¾" in diameter. Structural wind damage may occur during a severe thunderstorm.
There is no such thing as guaranteed safety inside a tornado. The most violent tornadoes can level and blow away almost any house and its occupants. Extremely violent F5 tornadoes are very rare, though. Most tornadoes are actually much weaker and can be survived using these safety ideas...
Prevention and practice - At home or at work, have a tornado plan in place, based on the kind of building you are in and the safety tips below:
- Know where you can take shelter in a matter of seconds.
- Store emergency supplies (water, non-perishable, ready-to-eat food, first aid kit, tools, portable radio, flashlight, fresh batteries, blanket, warm jacket, and fire extinguisher) in a secure place at home or in your car.
- Be familiar with the weather service alert and siren system; there is a “test” the first Wednesday of every month at 1:00 P.M.. For further information contact the Grand Forks County Emergency Management Office at 780-8213.
- Practice a tornado drill at least once a year.
- Have a pre-determined place to meet after a disaster.
- Flying debris is the greatest danger in tornadoes; so store protective coverings (e.g., mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc) in or next to your shelter space, ready to use on a few seconds' notice.
- When a tornado watch is issued, think about the drill and check to make sure all your safety supplies are handy. Turn on local TV, radio or NOAA Weather Radio and stay alert for warnings.
- Forget about the old notion of opening windows to equalize pressure; the tornado will blast open the windows for you!
- If you shop frequently at certain stores, learn where there are bathrooms, storage rooms or other interior shelter areas away from windows, and the shortest ways to get there.
- If you are planning to build a house, especially east of the Rockies, consider an underground tornado shelter or an interior "safe room".
UND Shelter Locations have been identified for all campus buildings. Locations were chosen based on FEMA tornado shelter criteria. The list is available online at Tornado Shelter List .
Know the signs of a tornado - Weather forecasting is not perfect and some tornadoes occur without warning. There is no substitute for staying alert to the sky. Besides an obviously visible tornado, here are some things to look and listen for:
- Strong, persistent rotation in the cloud base.
- Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base -- tornadoes sometimes have no funnel!
- Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
- Day or night - Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
- Night - Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
- Night - Persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning -- especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.
What to do…
- Go to the basement. If a basement is not available, go to the lowest floor of the building in a small center room (like a bathroom, closet, under a stairwell, or interior hallway).
- Avoid windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.
- If possible, get under sturdy protection or cover yourself (mattress, blankets, etc.) If coverings are not available, crouch down and cover your head with your hands.
- Never stay in a mobile home. Get out. Most tornadoes can destroy even tied-down mobile homes, and you are probably safer outside. If time permits go to a community storm shelter, or other sturdy permanent building.
- If no shelter locations are available, lay face down flat on the ground away objects like buildings, vehicles, and trees. Protect your head.
- Vehicles are extremely dangerous in a tornado. If the tornado is visible, far away, and the traffic is light, you may be able to drive out of its path by moving at right angles to the tornado. Otherwise, park the car as quickly and safely as possible -- out of the traffic lanes. [It is safer to get the car out of mud later if necessary than to cause a crash.] Get out and seek shelter in a sturdy building. If in the open country, run to low ground away from any cars (which may roll over on you). Lie flat and face-down, protecting the back of your head with your arms. Avoid seeking shelter under bridges, which can create deadly traffic hazards while offering little protection against flying debris.
Prepare Before a Tornado:
- Be familiar with the weather service alert and siren system; there is a “test” of the City of Grand Forks outdoor siren system the first Wednesday of every month at 1:00 P.M. UND tests its outdoor siren system once each academic term.
During a Tornado:
- UND designates a residence hall and tunnel each year as an emergency storm shelter. Those individuals that may be on campus and not in a building with a satisfactory shelter option. Know the location of the campus severe weather shelter(s)s. Proceed to these shelters if necessary.
- Seek safety in an underground basement or in an interior part of the lowest level (closets, bathrooms, hallways). Get under something sturdy.
- If in a high-rise building, go to an interior hallway on the lowest floor possible. Remain away from outside walls. Assume a crouched position with arms over your head.
- Stay away from windows, particularly on the windward side, and avoid shelter in large rooms with large, unsupported roof spans.
- If outside in an automobile, do not try to out-race a tornado. Drive at right angles away from the tornado's path. If there isn't time, or if you are on foot, take cover and lie flat in the nearest depression such as a ditch, culvert, excavation or ravine.
After the Tornado:
- Wear sturdy shoes to protect your feet from possible broken glass.
- Check for injuries. Apply first aid. Do not attempt to move anyone seriously injured.
- Check for fire.
- Check utilities for damage and evacuate the building if a gas leak is present. Do not light matches or turn on electricity until you are certain there are no gas leaks.
- Avoid downed power lines.
- Check for structural damage; clear blocked exits.
- Check radio and phones and monitor official broadcasts. Do not use the phone except for emergencies.
- Use extreme caution when close to masonry structures.
- Plug bathtub and sink drains. Do not use the toilet until you are certain sewage lines are not damaged
- Do not call the police or fire department except in the case of an emergency (fire, severe injury or a gas leak). A delay in response time may be expected.
- Telephone a designated out-of-state person who family members and friends can call to learn your location and condition.
In a nutshell:
Before a Tornado/Wind Storm
- Tornadoes and windstorms are common in North Dakota. Tornadoes are the most concentrated and violent storms produced by the earth’s atmosphere, and can produce winds in excess of 300 mph. Tornadoes and windstorms are usually caused by the intense local thunderstorms, and are common between April and October.
- Stay Informed. Weather radios enable you to monitor weather related forecasts, watches and warnings 24 hours a day direct from the National Weather Service.
During a Tornado/Wind Storm
If you are indoors:
- Move to lower floors in multistory buildings and away from windows or other objects that could fall. The areas which would be utilized as fallout shelters would provide the best protection. Stay near inside walls when possible.
- Keep calm. Even though a warning has been issued the chance of a tornado striking your building or location is very slight.
If you are outdoors:
- Move into a building and avoid downed electric power lines, utility poles and trees.
If you are driving:
- Pull off the road and stop away from trees. If possible, walk into a safe building. Avoid overpasses, power lines and other hazards.
- Listen to your radio for emergency instructions.
After a Tornado/Wind Storm
- Check yourself and those around you for injuries.
- Evacuate damaged buildings. Do not re-enter until declared safe by authorities.
- Call 9-1-1 (or 777-3491 from a campus phone) only to report a life threatening emergency.
- If you smell gas or hear a hissing sound indoors, open windows and leave the building. Turn off the gas source and call your gas company. Do not use matches, candles, open flames or electric switches indoors.
- Monitor your portable or weather radio for instructions or an official all clear notice. Radio stations will broadcast what to do, the location of emergency shelters, medical aid stations, and the extent of damage.
Watches and Warnings
Severe Thunderstorm Watch
A Severe Thunderstorm Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of severe thunderstorms. A severe thunderstorm by definition is a thunderstorm that produces 3/4 inch hail or larger in diameter and/or winds equal or exceed 58 miles an hour. Watches are usually issued for a duration of 4 to 8 hours, and are normally issued well in advance of the actual occurrence of severe weather. During the watch, people should review severe thunderstorm safety rules and be prepared to move a place of safety if threatening weather approaches.
Severe Thunderstorm Warning
A Severe Thunderstorm Warming is issued when either a severe thunderstorm is indicated by radar or a spotter reports a thunderstorm producing hail 3/4 inch or larger in diameter and/or winds equal or exceed 58 miles an hour. People in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately. Severe thunderstorms can produce tornadoes with little or no advance warning. Lightning frequency is not a criteria for issuing a severe thunderstorm warning. They are usually issued for a duration of one hour. They can be issued without a Severe Thunderstorm Watch being already in effect.
High Wind Watch
A High Wind Watch is issued when there is the potential of high wind speeds developing that may pose a hazard or is life threatening.
High Wind Advisory
A High Wind Advisory is issued when high wind speeds may pose a hazard.
High Wind Warning
A High Wind Warning is issued when high wind speeds may pose a hazard or is life threatening.
A Tornado Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area. Watches are usually issued for a duration of 4 to 8 hours, and are normally issued well in advance of the actual occurrence of severe weather. During the watch, people should review tornado safety rules and be prepared to move a place of safety if threatening weather approaches.
A Tornado Warning is issued when a tornado is indicated by radar or sighted by spotters. People in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately. Warnings can be issued without a Tornado Watch being already in effect. They are usually issued for a duration of around 30 minutes.