How K-12 School District and University Officials Anticipated and Responded to 2011 National Weather Service Tornado Warnings

August 2014 (VOL. 32, NO. 2)

Download this article

This research examines how public K-12 school district and university officials made decisions during National Weather Service (NWS) tornado warnings in the spring of 2011. K-12 public school districts and universities placed under tornado warnings were identified during the Spring 2011 tornado season. Interviews with officials at six public school districts and five public universities were conducted to address two main research questions: 1) What is the public school and university official’s timeline of decision making and action implementation before, during, and after tornado warnings? and 2) What are the non-weather factors that influence how decisions are made? This research found that NWS tornado warnings acted as a trigger to activate most emergency plans and notification systems. However, multiple decisions and actions also occurred prior to the issuance of the tornado warning, including communication with other departments on campus, weather monitoring, and situational assessment. Preparations for tornado warnings occurred during the majority of the year when there was no severe weather. Additionally, much of the action taken occurred throughout several phases beginning hours before the severe weather was approaching and ending when the tornado warning had passed. The main non-weather factors that influenced decision making were the time of day or year and the location of people on campus.