Tornado strikes city, spares campus

During the first few evening hours of Spring Break on March 14, a tornado hit downtown Atlanta. With winds clocking in around 130 miles per hour, the tornado damaged some of the Atlanta’s landmarks. However, Tech received no discernible damage.

The World Congress Center suffered roof damage, the CNN Center had windows broken, holes were ripped in the roof of the Georgia Dome and the top floor of Georgia State University’s Lofts received extensive damage according to damage reports from the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. The SEC Men’s Basketball tournament was being played in the Georgia Dome at the time of the tornado. The damage sustained by the Georgia Dome forced the tournament to finish up in the Alexander Memorial Coliseum.

“As far as evidence of the tornadoes downtown, yesterday we saw the broken windows on the Westin, Omni and some other buildings downtown. They have closed down some blocks near these places and are still cleaning up glass and other debris,” said Laura Nunez, Chemical Engineering Masters student, who was in downtown Atlanta last Sunday.

Although some of these buildings sit no more than a mile from Tech, there were no reports of any kind of tornado-related damage on campus.

“They really couldn’t find even a fallen limb when they looked around the campus,” said Teresa Crocker, Tech Chief of Police. “We’re thankful that we didn’t have any of [the damage received in the downtown area].”

A few hours after the storm had subsided, units from the Tech Police Department and Tech Facilities surveyed the campus looking for signs of damage. They were not able to find any damage in their search, and a subsequent examination by state officials also failed to turn up anything.

“This not the end. In fact, this is only the beginning,” said Andy Altizer, director of Emergency Preparedness. “The tornado season lasts from March to May.”

Next week, Altizer and the Police Department will be hosting an administration-level discussion to review the contingency plan for a tornado incident. The discussion group will include the Chief of Police, Emergency Preparedness Director, Deputy Chief of Police, Patrol Commander, Facilities Director, Environmental Health and Safety Representative, Executive Vice President of Administration, Housing Representative, Communications and Public Relations Representative, Health Services Representative and a representative from the Dean of Students Office.

“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page,” Altizer said. “While I think we’re on track for emergency notification, police response and even potential medical response, I have questions about the recovery efforts that would be needed and ‘who would do what’ if a tornado hit Tech resulting in significant damage.”

Some of the specific issues to be discussed are what to do with students and faculty if parts of campus sustained damage, what to do about classes and what to do about buildings that are deemed inaccessible.

“It was a fortunate thing that it was Spring Break and that the students weren’t on campus. However if Tech had received damage, we would need to figure out what to do about all the returning students,” Crocker said.

A weather alert email was sent out from the Tech emergency warning system at 9:43 p.m., a few minutes before the tornado hit the city. Crocker said that officers in the city reported that the tornado formed very quickly. Altizer said that he is hopeful that the audio Siren Warning System will be up by the end of the semester. The system will be tied into the existing emergency warning system and will warn people who are outside of potential hazardous situations, like the potential for tornadoes.