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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

April 4, 2008

It's severe weather season: Be prepared

by Paula Van Brocklin

The sun is warm, the birds are back and the grass is dotted with green blades. Ah yes, spring has sprung. But don't let these tranquil days fool you. Spring also is the beginning of severe weather season in Iowa, and ISU's department of environmental health and safety urges employees to keep an eye on the sky.

"Be aware of the weather conditions at all times, especially if severe weather is predicted," said Angie Jewett, emergency response planning coordinator in environmental health and safety. "With the amount of information that's out there and available, there really are few times that one should be completely taken by surprise."

There are about 200 weather coordinators on campus armed with weather radios. But Jewett recommends employees take responsibility for receiving their own severe weather notifications.

"I encourage people to sign up for an e-mail or text alert so they don't have to rely on somebody else to alert them," Jewett said. She noted that most local television stations offer these services through their Web sites.

Should you receive an alert, Jewett said, spread the word to your co-workers, especially if they work outside. She also said to consider suspending all outdoor activities until the storm passes, particularly when lightning is a threat.

"Lightning kills more people than tornadoes do," Jewett said. "If you're working outside or watching your kids play soccer while on a metal bleacher, be real cognizant of lightning."

Take cover

The city of Ames will sound the emergency sirens if a tornado warning is issued for this area. If you hear the sirens, Jewett said, get to a windowless interior room or hallway in your building's lowest level. Bathrooms often are best. Avoid buildings with large roof expanses, such as the Armory or State Gym.

"If you feel like you are in a building that is at risk for flying debris, or you are in imminent danger and you can't get to a shelter somewhere else, a desk would provide some protection from flying debris and falling debris," Jewett said.

If you're walking outside and hear the sirens, enter the nearest building and follow the same procedures.

Be prepared

Jewett said about 50 percent of the buildings on campus have signs (white with green lettering) indicating where storm shelters are located. She said employees should be familiar with their building's shelter location. You can either physically search for the area (preferably prior to a weather emergency) or go to and click on "Emergency Response" to find building evacuation plans and storm shelters.

New sirens

Later this spring or summer, Iowa State will install at least a half-dozen emergency sirens. The sirens will extend from Schilletter University Village on campus' north end to Veterinary Medicine on the south side. Currently, there are no university-owned sirens on campus.

"Our system will be able to be zoned so we can sound our own sirens or the city of Ames can do a blanket [alarm] for the entire city," Jewett said.

The new sirens also may carry voice messages, and could be used as a resource for ISU Alert to provide students and employees with instructions during a campus emergency.

Shelter area sign

Campus storm shelter areas are identified with signs like this. A list of shelters is available at by Bob Elbert.


ISU is ready for a storm

In 2004, Iowa State became the first college in Iowa (and the ninth in the nation) to earn the National Weather Service's "StormReady" designation. The NWS required ISU to comply with six guidelines to receive the designation, including:

  • A staff available 24/7 to implement emergency procedures if severe weather occurs.
  • At least four systems in place to receive weather warnings.
  • At least three methods of monitoring local weather information on an ongoing basis.
  • At least three systems in place to notify the university community of severe weather warnings.
  • Emergency notification plans for each building.
  • Storm spotter training and a hazardous weather operations plan.