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Getting ready for a twister

Tornado drill draws more than 1 million participants

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Sarah Kohrs remembers all too well the tornado that narrowly missed her family's home near Conicville last April.

The Kohrs used a common safety measure and took shelter under the stairs, but even their response could have happened quicker, she said Tuesday.

The family joined more than a million other people across Virginia by participating in a statewide tornado drill held Tuesday by the Department of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service. The Kohrs were one of three homes in Shenandoah County registered as participants in the drill, according to Laura Southard, public outreach coordinator with the agency. The county also had eight of its public school facilities registered, Southard.

"It was a concern for us, especially since we have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, and so we want to make sure, you know, that our family knows what to do and my kids aren't scared when something happens and Mommy and Daddy say 'we have to go under the stairs' where we have to go," Kohrs said. "So by kind of talking about it and practicing it, you know, hopefully it will deter any potential problems if it does happen in the future.
"We just feel that we want to be the family that's prepared for whatever happens and want to make good decisions for our family," Kohrs added.

More than a million people, schools, government agencies and other entities registered indicating their intention to participate in the drill, according to Southard, meaning that one out of eight Virginians wanted to practice their responses to tornadoes. More people than registered also likely took part, she said.

"It's an extremely important safety exercise," Southard said. "We really want everybody in Virginia to hold a drill at least once a year, whether they do it on this date or another date."

Virginia experienced more tornadoes last year than it had before and storms were linked to more than 100 injuries and 10 deaths, Southard noted. Some communities have not yet fully recovered from the storms, she said. But some people remain skeptical about the drill and tornado preparedness.

"I was looking at social media this morning after the drill and so many people were saying, you know 'why are we doing this? This never happens in Virginia,' and I just thought 'where have you been?'" Southard said. "It can happen anywhere."

Tornadoes struck Virginia in eight out of the 12 months of last year and in different parts of the state, including the mountain region, Southard said. Tornadoes also bring other deadly and destructive elements such as strong rains which cause flooding, she noted.

"We have to be really respectful of Mother Nature, especially in times like this when it's kind of unsettled weather. The weather's not steady," Southard said.

The April storm showed the family needed more practice.

"I know last year we actually did go ahead and get under the stairs because we had the tornado warning in our area, the watch in our area, so I remember trying to get the kids downstairs," Kohrs said. "Trust me, if a tornado had gone by we'd have been wiped out because we could not get down in time. So this was a way to practice that and, you know, if it really did happen maybe we could get them down better."

The family missed participating during the scheduled statewide drill Tuesday morning but Kohrs said she and her toddler sons did practice later in the day when the children "were a little more manageable." The family may do another practice drill when her husband, Russell, returned home from work as a teacher at Broadway High School, Kohrs said.

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