“This is a Severe Weather Alert!” Emergency Kit? Check. Helmets?… Huh??

For most parents, the mantra “Put your helmet on!” quickly becomes a routine refrain. And though different parents have different family rules, outside of sports where helmets are part of the uniform, I’ve seen kids wearing helmets on bikes, roller blades, skate boards, skis, snowboards, toboggans, ripsticks, horses, snowmobiles, ice skates, rock walls, dirt bikes, scooters, and more.

So why not during severe weather events then — like tornado and hurricane warnings — when there’s a high likelihood that heavy projectiles could come flying straight at your kids’ heads?? The answer seems almost universal: “I don’t know. I never even thought about it before. But it sure makes a lot of sense!”

This is a timely topic, because perhaps you heard the news story about the Stewart Family’s tornado ordeal about two weeks ago, April 27. A series of devastating tornadoes killed more than 300 people across the Southeast that day, and Jonathan Stewart was just one of many people who raced the storm to get home to his family. He found his wife, adult daughter, and 8-year-old son taking shelter in their small shower stall just minutes before they felt the house become weightless and heard a gigantic explosion.

AP Photo Caption: Noah Stewart shelters in the closet just 15 minutes before an April 2012 tornado demolished his house. Wearing the helmet may have saved his life, one doctor says.

“I remember being sucked out of the house,” Jonathan said. “It was not like being blown about. It was not walls blowing around. It was like a vacuum, and it sucked us out.” His wife, Lisa, recalls the terrifying sight of her 8-year-old, Noah, “… up in the air. I actually saw him stuck up inside it [inside the tornado] … being tossed around as high as the power lines.” Twisting, flying, held up by the force of the tornado’s tremendous energy, Noah remembers, “… and then the wind just immediately stopped, and I was going down headfirst, and then I think my helmet just cracked.”

That’s right. His helmet. Noah had put on his Little League baseball helmet with the strap and face guard — and it may have just saved his life, according to his emergency room doctor. Because Noah was the only family member wearing protective headgear that night, in pictures later, Noah’s face appears fine, while his parents look like they went 5 rounds with a professional cage fighter.

In fact, most of the 60 children ER Dr. Mark Baker treated for storm-related injuries that night suffered some form of head trauma. “Children’s heads are relatively large compared to the rest of their body. So during a tornado, where they’re thrown by the wind, or an object is thrown into them, or a building collapses, it is most frequently the head that is injured,” he says.

The doctors at Children’s Hospital decided the time was overdue for getting this news out. Working with a local television meteorologist, they produced a PSA to spread the word that helmets help save lives during weather emergencies. Others stepped forward to help raise awareness too. At a recent Birmingham Barons baseball game in Alabama, 125 bicycle helmets were given away as part of this new emergency preparedness campaign.

While standing in line with their three kids for free helmets, one Trussville, Alabama family summed it up for most of us: “We didn’t even think about it … and then we started hearing how much safer it was … that you should wear them, and so we were like … ‘Why didn’t we do this before?’ I don’t know why. It’s such a great idea! It just never occurred to us.”

Even the CDC has taken up the cry, as this Friday, May 4 headline states: CDC Urges Helmet use in Severe Weather: “Families should consider adding helmets to their storm survival kits, federal officials said Thursday. While getting to shelter quickly is most important when a tornado is on the way, a readily available helmet might also be helpful. The CDC issued its statement in response to reported incidents of children surviving tornadoes while wearing bicycle, football, or baseball helmets.”

Besides Helmets, What Else Should Be in Your Family’s Emergency Survival Kit?

Safety Glasses USA has written excellent articles on emergency preparedness. “Are You Prepared For An Emergency? 5 Steps To Be Sure” and “Pencil in Safety Glasses on Your Emergency Kit Checklist” are two great ones.

Besides some sort of helmet for each family member then, a pair of safety goggles for each person is also vitally important. Adult-sized goggles are critical to parents’ ability to keep the rest of the family safe by ensuring that debris blown into their eyes by high winds won’t impede their ability to take action and make potentially life-saving decisions.

Small safety goggles for children and adults with smaller faces are also available and have straps that tighten around small heads. Additionally, these have anti-fog lenses and meet ANSI Z87.1-2010 standards as well.

Other necessities include:

  • Three gallons of water for each person
  • At least a three day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery powered or hand crank radio
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Emergency cell phone, charged
  • Extra doses of your prescription medication
  • Warm blankets

Follow this advice, and your family will be as safe as possible during severe weather. And thank you Noah Stewart, for teaching all of us such an incredibly simple, incredibly important, life-saving lesson.