Jeremy Kirk, 82nd Civil Engineering Squadron emergency management specialist, sits down in the tornado shelter at his house April 23, 2014. Kirk helps the 82nd CES formulate escape and preparation plans for natural disasters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson)
by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
4/28/2014 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Tornadoes can come through with winds that can exceed 300 mph and also produce hail, lightning, flash floods and a host of other natural disasters. Sheppard potentially stands in the direction of a force that has the ability to irrevocably change lives.
According to the National Weather Service, in 2013 there were 55 tornado-related deaths in the United States.
The 82nd Civil Engineering Squadron aims to bring some order to the chaos through knowledge and preparation.
The squadron makes it their job to educate people on and off base about evacuation procedures and how to shelter-in-place during any natural disasters or emergencies.
The base holds a unique distinction in that it is the first Air Force installation in Texas to be awarded the storm readiness rating by the NWS, an award that requires a community to have proactive and clear-cut guidelines on how to respond in hazardous weather operations.
StormReady, an NWS program started in 1999 in Tulsa, Okla., helps arm America's communities with the communication and safety skills needed to save lives and property.
"We have to educate people," said Norman Yeingst, base emergency installation manager. "People need to take responsibility and ownership of it."
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States is home to the most tornadoes, with just over 1000 recorded each year. Sheppard lies in what is known as Tornado Alley, which spans the Midwest and southern part of America. This area is where most of the tornadoes in the United States strike.
A tornado hit Sheppard in 1964, damaging hangars, equipment and homes within the local area. With Sheppard being part of the most tornado-stricken section of a country that holds the highest amount yearly, a high level of importance is placed on preparing for something that could strike at any time.
Building emergency kits, going over evacuation procedures, how to take accountability and practicing disaster plans are just a few of the many tips Yeingst encourages in those facing natural disasters.
"Everybody's job on this base is to do their job and we do this so they can do their job," Yeingst said. "If we need to push information up, we push it."
With all of the uncertainty surrounding when and how natural disasters can affect the environment, Yeingst wants the people affected to plan and practice.
"I can only provide the info to you," he commented. "You need to think about it and act."
Jeremy Kirk, 82nd Civil Engineering Squadron emergency management specialist, attributes fear of the unknown as one of the most difficult parts of dealing with a tornado. Regardless of that unknown, Kirk encourages all to find a shelter within their home and workplace, while going over evacuation plans with family members and loved ones.
"You have to be educated and make the best decisions possible," he said.