Surviving severe weather events -- especially those such as tornadoes -- depends on awareness, warning reception and response. Springfield has tornado shelters available for those who do not have a safe place to locate during severe weather events. 

Severe weather season has begun in the Springfield area. Although everyone should be prepared in the event of a tornado watch or warning, some groups have a harder time ensuring safety during these events. Those with limited English proficiency, disabilities, socioeconomic disadvantages and elderly individuals are all examples of vulnerable populations. 

Surviving severe weather events — especially those such as tornadoes — depends on awareness, warning reception and response. Those in vulnerable populations have challenges in all phases of awareness and response. 

“To better understand the scope of these challenges, we utilize information from the Center for Disease Control’s social vulnerability index, F.E.M.A.’s Resilience Analysis and Planning Tool, and also the Neighborhoods at Risk data sets,” said Steve Runnels, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service of Springfield. “What we found is that every county, every community has numerous vulnerable populations.”

According to Runnels, his personal awareness of the impact severe weather can have on vulnerable communities was influenced by the May 4, 2003, tornado outbreak. There was a family in Pierce City, Missouri that was hispanic, didn’t understand English and lived in a mobile home. They heard the tornado sirens, but they didn’t understand what they meant.

“When the tornado destroyed their home, their twenty-week-old (child) was killed simply because they did not understand English,” said Runnels.

Runnels noted that 10-20% of the several communities within the Ozarks only speak Spanish. However, limited English proficiency is not limited to the Spanish-speaking population. In Christian County, the second most spoken language is Ukrainian. Tyson Foods in McDonald County has employees that speak 26 different languages.

Many of the individuals with limited English proficiency are new to the area. The first step in keeping these communities safe is creating awareness that this area is prone to tornadoes. These communities will likely have trouble understanding standard preparedness material and interpreting forecast and warning information. 

“They need an ambassador in their community to share the meaning of things like warnings or icons,” said Runnels. “We still need connections to these groups to support those individuals.”

Warning reception is especially a challenge for socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals. Being able to receive warnings from multiple sources such as apps, the radio and TV are important for staying informed. Homeless people do not have access to those devices that would keep them informed of a severe weather event. They also do not have adequate shelter from a tornado or the means of transportation to get to shelter. 

“Ambassadors are needed to share National Weather Service forecast and warning information within those communities far enough in advance that shelter may be identified should warnings be issued,” said Runnels.

Elderly and disabled populations are sizable in this area. Warning reception and response time is a concern for these communities, especially for those with hearing and sight impairment. 

According to Runnels, technology is improving its accessibility for disabled populations. Radio vendors now offer options for blinking lights and vibrating attachments. So, the same standard devices recommended for everyone also works with individuals with various disabilities. 

“The Weather Service is seeking points of contact within those communities to share preparedness and response information,” said Runnels.

According to Runnels, the NWS is increasingly working with their core partners: the emergency management community, the media, schools and the University of Missouri extension all to help identify points of contact within these groups. Until the NWS is aware of these potential points of contact, it is a challenge to get them information.

“The mission of the NWS is protect life and property,” said Runnels. “If we consider the challenges of those within the vulnerable populations, we have a long way to go to make this a weather ready nation.”

To learn more about becoming an ambassador visit To learn more about weather safety for individuals with disabilities visit

For more information on a few local tornado shelters visit


Follow Hope Blaylock on Twitter, @Hope66683115

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