The US experiences more tornadoes than any other country on earth, with an average of over 1,000 tornadoes recorded each year. (Canada is a distant second, with around 100 per year).
In general, disasters are known to be increasing in frequency and cost worldwide, including the US. However, this is not the case for tornado disasters. Contrary to other types of disasters in the US, tornado-related deaths have been dropping steadily every year for the past century!
Why did US disaster-related death rates level off during the 20th century for nearly all hazards, except tornadoes?
Here’s a quick quiz.
The 100-year-long drop in US tornado related deaths is largely due to:
A. Improved ambulance systems, emergency department and hospital care
B. Development of the US National Disaster Medical System (NDMS)
C. Development of the Stafford Act organizing all US disaster response
D. Improved communication with the National Weather Service
The answer is D. Tornado deaths have decreased largely due to better forecasting, improved communications and early warning. The fact is that most tornado-related deaths occur within minutes, not hours or days. That leaves no time for victims to be rescued by ambulances, treated in ERs, or to even participate in a formal Federal disaster declaration.
In fact, by the time that first responders become available during a tornado, most deaths have already occurred. That’s why prevention is key. Here at DisasterDoc, we teach that there are 2 main causes of disaster-related deaths: exposure and vulnerability.
The most important approach for prevention of disaster-related deaths is to prevent any exposure to the tornado in the first place.
That’s why early warning and pre-designated options to shelter-in-place are so important.
So, what have we learned from a century of success in tornado risk reduction?
- We CAN lower disaster-related mortality in the US, if we teach people how to stay safe and warn them early.
- Healthcare isn’t always the best solution for a public health problem.
To learn more, see our related blog: on Tornado Preparedness