Want to stay safe in a storm? Learn to read a map

Memorial Day, May 27, 2019, will be a day I’ll never forget — and I imagine the same is true for many of you.

To think that 15 tornadoes ripped through our lives that night is still hard to comprehend. As I’ve said before, it was undoubtedly today’s technology and the public response that resulted in minimal injuries and lives lost.

But it had me thinking: what if we didn’t have GPS technology to send us alerts? Have we become complacent and too reliant on our technology? Have we perhaps made ourselves vulnerable during severe weather?

A study by the University of Alabama looked at that very question. They surveyed a group of people to see if they could find their home county on a state map. What they found was most people knew the county they lived in, but did not know where it was located within their home state. That meant the people they surveyed had no “situational awareness,” and that can be extremely dangerous — especially when it comes to severe weather.

I had to find out if this was true for residents in the Miami Valley.

Dr. Kathly Platoni, a local psychologist, says situational awareness is critical. “I think we pay attention to the wrong things in so many instances — what our technology is showing us, other than what our environment is teaching us,” Platoni said. “We’ve had the ultimate wake-up call in the Dayton area. It’s time to pay attention.”

Since flood, severe thunderstorm and tornado watches are issued by county, not cities, knowing where you are on a map is crucial for staying safe.

Curious, I hit the streets with a county map in hand, to see if people really knew where they were.

At first I was relieved by the response. Everyone I spoke to knew the county they lived in. But what I heard next was alarming. While they knew the county name, only seven out of the nine people I talked with could place it on the map of Ohio. One woman said she couldn’t even tell me the name of any counties outside of Montgomery County.

Now imagine you’re out of town and unfamiliar with the area you’re in. That’s even more dangerous.

“When you’re on vacation or on a business trip, you might not necessarily know what to look for to find a safe place,” Platoni said.

That’s exactly what happened to one family driving south on Interstate 75 through Dayton on Memorial Day. They were completely unaware a catastrophic EF4 tornado was in their path. A steel beam thrown by the tornado pierced the back end of their SUV, inches away from killing their daughter inside.

So ask yourself: what would you do if you didn’t have your smartphone and its GPS location-finding? What if you weren’t near a television set or a radio? Perhaps you’ve lost power. How would you keep yourself and your family safe? Situational awareness is key, and that means always knowing where you are and what to do when severe weather strikes.

About the Author