Fairfax county staff participate in tornado planning exercise (Fairfax County)

The exercise “Operation: Enduring Collaboration” began Monday and continues through Wednesday. The county is working through response plans for a “fake tornado outbreak” that struck Monday morning at 8 a.m.

Path of simulated tornadoes striking Fairfax county (Fairfax County)

* impacted 63,000+ residents, injuring hundreds and causing some fatalities...
* damaged properties and trapped some people inside.
* caused the Route 28 bridge over I-66 to collapse and closed a large section of Route 28, snarling traffic
* affected power and gas as well as water and sewage

Government officials and emergency managers are discussing optimal responses to this set of circumstances during the course of the exercise

“These three, 12-hour work shifts will not only sharpen our ability to respond, coordinate and plan for all emergencies better, but it will specifically call us to understand the potential power of tornadoes,” writes the Fairfax County Emergency Blog.

As part of its tornado season preparation, the county encouraged businesses, organizations, schools, colleges and families to participate in Virginia’s Statewide Tornado Drill which was held at 9:45 a.m. today.

As part of the drill, the National Weather Service issued a test tornado warning. Participants in the drill then took the same actions they would take if a real tornado warning was issued.

Patch.com Mt. Vernon reports the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors participated in the drill during its regularly scheduled meeting.

What does the county advise you do if a tornado warning is issued?

[S]helter immediately in the nearest substantial building. Go to the building’s basement. If there is no basement, move to a small, windowless, interior room such as a closet, bathroom or interior hall on the lowest level of the building. If you are in a high rise building go into an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor possible. When shelter is not available, lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area (do not get under an overpass or bridge).

Related link: Everything you need to know: Tornado safety

The county is urging residents to have a plan in the case of a tornado, emphasizing that the entire community plays a pivotal role in preparation and response efforts.

We’re preparing and responding during the Operation Enduring Collaboration exercise, but our response will never be enough for our community to recover. We need the whole community — families, businesses, nonprofits, faith communities and other key groups — to prepare, respond and recover.

The county recommends you have 1) preparedness kits in “your homes, cars and places of work/worship” 2) a communications plan for reaching loved ones.

It also encourages you to think about 10 questions that a tornado or other emergency might prompt:

1. If you work in D.C. or other points far away from your home and roads are impassable for long periods of time, what arrangements should you think about?
2. If you have children in daycare or schools, what are their policies for sheltering and holding students?
3. If you run a small business and you can’t travel to your business or if you do not have power/internet for long periods of time, how will your business operations continue?
4. If mass transit is affected, how will you get around the area (assuming roads are passable, too)?
5. If your home or business is damaged, do you have proper insurance and other recovery issues documented (or at least discussed)?
6. Do you have important digital files backed up off site or in the “cloud” away from your home or business?
7. Do you know first aid or CPR to help people who may be trapped or injured?
8. Do you have enough medications on hand in case pharmacies are unable to refill them for a few days?
9. Do you have plans for your pets?
10. Are there people in your community such as the elderly or home-bound that you can check on if your situation is OK?

The 16 tornadoes to hit Fairfax county since the 1950s have caused one death, 45 injuries, and more than $34 million in damage. In 2011 alone, 51 tornadoes touched down in Virginia overall, killing 10 people and injuring more than 100.

Related: About 50 tornadoes in Virginia in 2011, second most on record

Maryland residents should also be ready for tornadoes. The Weather Channel ranked it as the third most vulnerable state in the nation.

“Maryland doesn’t get a whole lot of tornadoes in terms of numbers but it’s a small state area-wise,” says Dr. Greg Forbes, the Weather Channel’s severe weather expert. “So when you analyze the data, it winds up pretty high on the list.”