8 May 2012
Are Helmets A Good Idea During Tornado Warnings? Well Duh!!
Posted by Dan Satterfield
Russell Lewis at National Public Radio had an interesting report about wearing helmets during tornado warnings a few days ago and it caught my eye, because I’ve been telling viewers to do just that since the early 1990’s. Not only, that but I’ve also pushed the idea of making sure everyone has shoes on and a safe place to run to if the winds start to pick up. Frankly, I’m glad to see the idea is spreading!
The NPR story is here, and they do make note of the fact that there has been little research to study whether or not wearing a helmet actually does save people from injury. However, this is one of those obvious issues where one does not need to wait. So, put on that bike, baseball, football, cricket, or whatever helmet you happen to have!
While I’m on the subject, some more free advice from someone who has lived through and tracked/nowcasted way too many twisters:
1. Skip the in ground shelter and get a safe room. Most people will wait until it is too late to get to an underground shelter, but you can sit in your safe room eating popcorn while watching TV and have a fair degree of safety!
2. Don’t let anyone convince you that a mobile home can be made as safe as a frame or brick building during a tornado. They cannot, and in spite of the fact that mobile homes make up only about 20% of housing in America, 50% of the deaths from tornadoes are in them.
3. Shoes are a smart idea, because after severe storms there are always people who need a trip to the ER to get their foot sewn up after stepping on something sharp!
4. Who cares if your local weather siren did or did not go off. Buy a NOAA weather radio. Sirens are so 1920’s.
Dan, UAB School of Medicine recommends the use of helmets. 50% of tornado deaths are from head and spine injuries. They have studied the helmet issue but frankly it is just common sense. Climbers, cavers, ball players, parachutists, firemen, police and military wear helmets to protect against trauma and projectiles. Tornados produce both. It truly is a no brainier. Also, body armor is a good idea. Helmets protect against head and in some cases neck injuries but body armor protects the rest of the spine and internal organs. Military body armor, motocross armor, football or hockey pads can add another level of safety. In the absence of body armor, memory foam from mattresses and pillows, rubber exercise mats, and thick blankets can increase survival chances. For those who live in mobile homes I would like to see Army surplus helmets and body armor issued by EMAs, especially for children. And a good low cost weather resistant military style fox holes with drainage right outside the door of mobile homes could be life savers. Why don’t the EMAs get some backhoes to dig them? In the absence of backhoes, a good shovel and a little sweat and muscle work just fine.
One other point. Helmets need secured chinstraps. They do no good if they are blown off by wind or knocked off by falling debris.
On the issue of the CDC being unsure that helmets save lives because of little research, sounds like the CDC wants to waste taxpayer money on a tornado helmet research project. They don’t need it. The Army, NASCAR, and TSB have conducted research on helmets for over 100 years in the Army’s case. The conditions helmets are put through in those organizations tests have many of the characteristics. Flying projectiles, falling debris, explosive trauma, airborne falls. Instead of funding more research to prove the obvious, fund a national tornado safety awareness campaign CDC! Recommend quality helmets with chinstraps, body armor and for those with no safe room or storm shelter, simple low cost water resistant Army fox holes with overhead cover. This recommendation is especially needed for people who are told to leave mobile homes with tornados bearing down but have no place to go! Tree line, ditch, low lying area in open field? NOWHERE NEAR AS GOOD AS A PROPERLY CONSTRUCTED FOXHOLE!!!! As an Army paratrooper, I landed on my head in 60 knot winds on hard Tarmac and walked away with a busted helmet liner. I also hit my head and diaphragm diving 8 ft into bunker during SCUD attack wearing Kevlar helmet and body armor. Got up and walked into the XVIII Airborne Corps HQ and calmly gave eyewithess report on the SCUD attack. Case closed!
Children’s Hospital of Alabama performed 18 tornado related emergency pediatric neurosurgeries on April 27, 2011. CDC, what additional research on helmets do you need?
UAB Injury Control Research Center issued a report on the importance of helmets during tornados. They call helmets the tornado GAME CHANGER because 50 percent of deaths are the result of head injuries. The entire report is at this link but you must scroll all the way to the bottom to read it. It is very well done. http://www.uab.edu/icrc/tornado_helmet_com.html