She was alone, 16, in a trailer house, and in the middle of a tornado.
And she was on the phone. Terrified. I could hear the crashing all around her as she screamed into the phone and frantically asked, “Harold, I’m in a tornado and my trailer house is jumping up and down! Quick, tell me, should I open the windows or leave them shut!?”
Open or shut. Simple. But I didn’t know.
Sitting in my office in Utah, all I could do was tell her to get down, hang on and try to ride it out.
That was all I got out, and the line went dead.
She called. About an hour later. Said that it had gotten so bad that she knew she had to leave, so she grabbed a motorcycle helmet, put it on and walked two miles, barely keeping her feet on the ground, to a local church where they took her in.
That was 20 years ago, and to this day I recall, vividly, my feelings of helplessness when I could not tell my young cousin Melissa whether to leave the windows open, or shut them. And on May 20, as a massive storm hit Moore, Okla., it was déjà vu all over again when I watched the approaching disaster.
This storm brushed Fort Thunder Harley-Davidson on 11th Street in Moore. The building stood, all the inventory was in, and they rode it out pretty well. But the theater complex next door, and the medical center on the other side of it were both damaged heavily. About a mile away, Oklahoma Honda Suzuki did a little better. It got a little windy, but the storm veered right and missed their building.
But I wanted to hear what happens in a powersports store in the middle of such a disaster. How do you prepare? What do you do in the months, the 16 minutes, or in the few seconds you have before it hits?
So I called Cary Glandt at Fort Thunder H-D, and also Chuck Cantwell at Oklahoma Honda Suzuki. The talk seemed to fall into three areas: What you do before, what you do during and what you do after the tornado hits. Here’s what I got.
It doesn’t have to be a single purpose area, but prepare a safe spot inside the building. Preferably reinforced and big enough to handle the number of people you may have in the store. Have a battery-powered radio there. Nobody has a reinforced concrete room for the public, but you can find a place on the ground floor or below with the fewest windows, the strongest metal beams and the greatest distance from the exterior walls. On the floor, under a secured workbench in a basement shop would be about as good as you are going to get.
If you are still using your own server for your DMS, get backup tapes offsite to a safe place every night. That means a bank vault, an in-house safe, or some heavily fortified location. Just “taking them home” doesn’t cut it. Backup your data every night. It’s a little tough to tell Mr. Tornado to wait while you run your backup. When your server ends up with Dorothy and Toto somewhere in Kansas, you will be glad you can go grab a tape at the bank.
Better, get an ASP (Application Service Provider) system for your DMS. You run your store through the Internet, and all of your data is triple-stored in multiple secure environments far, far away. You will have access to everything as soon as the Internet comes back up. This is your best shot.
About your general disaster policy (you have one, don’t you?): Nobody is required to stay. Let employees get home at the first sign of danger, but don’t let them leave so late that there is any chance of getting caught in the storm. The El Reno storm killed nine people. Eight of them, including a mother and her baby, were killed in their cars trying to outrun the storm. Note to self: You can’t outrun these things. Don’t even try.
Gather at the safe spot. Stay away from windows. Keep low. Pass out helmets to everybody. Grab leather jackets, motocross protective gear and gloves off the shelves and put them on. You’ll need it all when the building starts to fly apart. I’ll take leathers and a full-face with a shield, thank you. If you are caught outside, lie flat in the lowest spot you can find. Don’t worry about inventory. It’s too late. Just keep your head down and hang on.
All of the obvious. But a powersports business is uniquely prepared to help. ATVs, UTVs, chainsaws, winches, tie-downs, trailers, drinking water, CB radios, chains — all these things will be in high demand immediately after the storm hits. People will be trapped and will need help fast. If you are able to provide these articles to the authorities, or can just get out there with your own employees, you will help save lives. Chuck Cantwell at Oklahoma Honda Suzuki was one and a half miles from the storm track. He got on the phone with the OEMs and asked them to work with him on providing ATVs for the rescue efforts. He had three units in the field within minutes, and he and his wife Jean were on site within the hour with sandwiches and water. They and their church members rounded up the food and served hot meals day and night for the next three days.
As soon as you can, get on social media and report on the status of persons in the store during the storm, damage to the building, best estimate of when you will open and the general condition of customer units. Check out the Fort Thunder Harley-Davidson Facebook for an excellent example of what to say and do.
Question: So what’s the difference between a country western song and a tornado?
Answer: Nothin’. Either way, you’re going to lose the trailer house.
Yeah, much truth is spoken in jest. But remember, when the time for action comes, the time for preparation has ceased.
Melissa’s frantic call came to me over 20 years ago, and I have had a long time to think about that moment when I was needed, and I didn’t have the answers. Don’t let this be you. Get on it. Be prepared, run the drills and be ready for whatever is to come. And if you live in Oklahoma, you may want to set the bottom shelf of those shop workbenches a bit higher off the floor. That might be just the place you want to be next time one of these things hits.
Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 40 years. Ethington is a senior analyst at ADP Lightspeed. Contact him at Hal.email@example.com.