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Preparing for tornadoes can minimize damage, maximize safety

(June 19, 2012) —Tornadoes can occur in any part of the country, including where we live. According to the National Center for Environmental Health, approximately 1,000 twisters occur in the U.S. every year, with devastating results for thousands of people.

Since tornadoes are often unpredictable and extremely powerful, no amount of preparation will eliminate every risk. But there are things you can do to protect your home and, more importantly, your family. American Family Insurance recommends these tips to prepare for a tornado and advice on what to do during and after a tornado:

Prepare an area in your home for shelter. Designate a place in your basement (if you don't have a basement, choose a central area on the ground floor) away from windows or objects that could be picked up and thrown by wind. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends keeping emergency supplies in your shelter area, such as a flashlight, a portable radio, first aid kit, food and water. FEMA has more shelter tips at www.fema.gov.

Develop an emergency plan. Make sure everyone in your household understands the local siren warning system and where to go when they hear it. Listen to the radio and TV for severe weather warnings. Discuss with your children what a tornado is, what tornado "watches" and "warnings" mean, what city and county they live in, and how to take shelter.

Tornadoes can overturn, throw or crush mobile homes. Designate a storm shelter, friend's home or other building where you can evacuate to safely seek shelter when conditions are right for a tornado.

Consider the construction of your home. Garage doors are highly susceptible to wind damage, but you can buy retrofits to improve wind resistance. Consider installing high-impact windows designed for wind resistance. Make sure entry doors have at least three hinges and a dead bolt lock. Have a contractor examine your roof and foundation to ensure they're anchored securely.

Document personal property before a storm strikes and keep this documentation in a safe place, such as a safe deposit box. Take photos or video of your property. This will help you and your insurance company replace lost or damaged items after a storm.

The horror of a tornado is that it can strike at a moment's notice, often leaving residents little time to react. That's why it is so very important you and your family know what do well before any potential danger.

When tornado conditions are right

Take shelter immediately, preferably in an in-home shelter or a designated area in your basement - away from windows or objects that could be picked up and thrown by wind. It's a good idea to stay tuned to TV or radio so you're aware when severe weather is possible. Listen for a tornado siren. Watch for a dark sky, hail, a loud roar and/or a funnel cloud. If you hear a warning or see signs a tornado could be coming your way, don't wait to see a funnel cloud to take shelter.

If you live in a mobile home, evacuate immediately - before the storm reaches your home. Tornadoes can overturn, throw or crush mobile homes. If you have ample time, go to the nearest community shelter, friend's home or other safe building.

During a tornado

Don't open windows. According to the Institute for Business and Home Safety, opening windows invites wind to enter and blow the house up like a balloon. Plus, it wastes valuable time you could use to seek shelter. A sturdy table or desk can provide you protection during the storm.

After a tornado

Don't use matches, lighters, appliances or light switches until you're sure there is no gas leak. If you smell gas, the National Center for Environmental Health recommends shutting off the gas supply using a valve near the meter. Also shut off electricity; sparks could ignite the gas. Turn off the water supply. Arrange furniture so chairs and beds are away from windows, mirrors and picture frames. Place heavy or large items on lower shelves.

Based in Madison, Wis., American Family Insurance offers auto insurance, homeowners insurance, life insurance, health insurance, business and farm/ranch insurance in 19 states. American Family Mutual Insurance Company is the nation's third-largest mutual property/casualty insurance company. Web: www.amfam.com; Facebook: www.facebook.com/amfam; Twitter: www.twitter.com/amfam.