Virginia Tech has scheduled a test of its emergency notification system on Tuesday, March 15, at approximately 9:30 a.m. the same day the Commonwealth of Virginia will hold a statewide tornado drill.

The university will test many elements of VT Alerts, including broadcast e-mails to all vt.edu accounts, electronic message boards in classrooms, campus sirens and loudspeakers, VT Phone Alerts, and VT Desktop Alerts.

The Virginia Tech's Emergency Management office, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, suggests that everyone in the campus community become familiar with basic information on tornados.

  • A Tornado Watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado and that tornadoes are possible.
  • A Tornado Warning means that a tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar and might be headed your way. When a warning is issued, take cover immediately.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management website has more basic information on tornados.

Responding to tornadoes: Know what to do

Stay tuned to your local radio or television station for weather reports or listen to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio for more detailed information when weather conditions are favorable for the formation of tornadoes.

When a tornado watch is issued:

  • Tornadoes could develop in your area.
  • Stay tuned to your local radio, television, or NOAA weather radio for further information and possible warnings.
  • Be prepared to take cover if necessary.

When a tornado warning is issued:

  • A tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by National Weather Service Doppler radar.
  • Warnings are given to individual counties or cities and include the tornado’s location, direction, and speed.
  • If you are in or near its path, seek shelter immediately.

If a tornado is headed your way:

  • Take shelter in the nearest substantial building immediately. Go to the building's basement. If there is no basement, move to a small, windowless interior room such as a closet, bathroom, or interior hall on the lowest level of the building. Be sure to use the stairs to reach the lowest level, not an elevator.
  • Protect your body from flying debris with a heavy blanket or pillows.

Take precautions if you cannot get to a substantial building. If you are in:

  • Open buildings (shopping malls, gymnasiums, or civic centers): Try to get into a restroom or an interior hallway. If there is no time to go anywhere else, seek shelter right where you are. Try to get up against something that will support or deflect falling debris. Protect your head by covering it with your arms.
  • Automobiles: Get out of your vehicle and try to find shelter inside a sturdy building. A culvert or ditch can provide shelter if a substantial building is not nearby -- lie down flat and cover your head with your hands. Do not take shelter under a highway overpass or bridge, because debris could get blown under them or the structures themselves could be destroyed.
  • Outdoors: Try to find shelter in the nearest substantial building immediately. If no buildings are close, lie down flat in a ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands.
  • Mobile homes: Do not stay in mobile homes. You should leave immediately and seek shelter inside a nearby sturdy building or lie down in a ditch away from your home, covering your head with your hands. Mobile homes are extremely unsafe during tornadoes.

The Virginia Tech Office of Emergency Management and Division of Student Affairs encourage faculty, staff, and students to participate in this year’s tornado drill. Students can expect to see exercise activities in Squires Student Center where building wardens will be activated and signage indicating areas of refuge will be posted. At Dietrick Dining Center, there will be information on actions to be taken by patrons in the event of an actual tornado. In residence halls, posters with guidelines to help identify safe areas in buildings will be posted to help students to develop a personal plan in the event of a tornado or other severe weather event.

Offices and departments participating in the drill are encouraged to use the following guidelines:

How to conduct a tornado drill

Designate one or more people in your organization to coordinate your drill and have them follow the steps below:

Before the drill

  • Make sure that your staff is aware that you are having a tornado drill, that they understand what will take place during the drill, and that they know the safest places to be during a tornado.
  • The safest place is typically a building's basement away from any windows. If there is no basement, go to a windowless interior room such as a closet, bathroom or interior hall on the lowest level of the building.
  • Encourage your co-workers to visit the Virginia Department of Emergency Management website to get information about tornado preparedness.

During the drill

  • The March 15 test of the emergency notification system will start the tornado drill
  • Employees should act as though a tornado warning has been issued for the immediate area or a tornado has been sighted near the building. They should evacuate as quickly as possible to the nearest safe place. Be sure to use stairs to reach the lowest level of a building. Avoid using an elevator.
  • In a real tornado emergency, once people reach safe areas they would crouch as low as possible to the floor, facing down, and cover their heads with their hands. Please ensure that people in your organization know this, however it is not necessary to practice this as part of the drill.
  • Once all employees have reached a safe location, the drill coordinator can announce that the tornado has passed and the drill is over. Employees can then return to their offices. Please note: A second VT Alert will not be issued to announce the end of the Tornado Drill.

After the drill

The drill coordinator should document any necessary changes in procedures. 

  • Do more safe areas need to be identified?
  • Are some safe areas cluttered and need to be cleaned out to be more accessible?
  • Do employees know the fastest routes to take to safe areas?
  • Is there a better method for letting employees know of an approaching tornado needed?

The Virginia Tech Office of Emergency Management and Division of Student Affairs encourage faculty, staff, and students to participate in this year's tornado drill. Questions on how to organize a tornado drill for your department may be directed to Ronald Angert, emergency preparedness planner in the Division of Student Affairs, via e-mail or by phone at (540) 231-5538, or to Grady DeVilbiss, emergency planner in the Office of Emergency Management, via e-mail or by phone at (540) 231-4846.

Students can expect to see exercise activities in Squires Student Center where building wardens will be activated and signage indicating areas of refuge will be posted. At Deitrick Dining Center, there will be information on actions to be taken by patrons in the event of an actual tornado. Dining halls will have table cards with information about how students can develop a personal plan for a tornado or other severe weather event.