What They Recommend: Safety Helmets for Tornados

How can you protect yourself against a tornado? Two different medical groups suggest that you might try putting a safety helmet on your head, because that might be better than not putting a safety helmet on your head, maybe. Early this year came the treatise:

Safety Helmets: A Practical, Inexpensive  Solution for Reducing the Risk of Head Injuries Resulting from Tornadoes,” M. Scott Crawford, Philip R. Fine, P. Jeff Foster, John W. Waterbor, Gregory G. Davis & Robert M. Brissie, University of Alabama Birmingham Injury Control Research Center, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, January 12, 2012. The authors explain:

“The CDC’s Emergency Prevention and Response website, as part of its “During a Tornado” safety tips webpage, instructs individuals to “protect your head with anything available—even your hands” and seek shelter in a low-lying, windowless area, such as a basement or other structurally sound part of a building, unless the residence is a mobile home, in which case the occupants should vacate. In our opinion, this website statement is unacceptably vague…

“Instead, workers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Injury Control Research Center (UAB ICRC) are proposing the use of ‘safety helmets’ by individuals at risk for being in the path of a tornado….

“A safety helmet can be any structurally sound helmet, such as a motorcycle helmet, football helmet, baseball helmet, bicycle helmet, skateboard helmet, or even a construction hardhat, as long as the helmet’s original intended purpose is to minimize anatomical damage sustained as a result of high-velocity impacts.”

A poster, reproduced below in miniature, gives further detail. (Thanks to investigator James Harkin for bringing both the treatise and the poster to our attention.)

An even more recent treatise reports evidence that safety helmets may just possibly, perhaps, have played a role and maybe even had a, well, impact on the safety of three of the many children who survived tornados:

Prevention of Child Injuries During Tornadoes: Cases From the 2011 Tornado Outbreak in Alabama,” Christine M. Campbell, Mark D. Baker, Kathy W. Monroe, Pediatric Emergency Care, vol. 28, no. 12, December 2012, pp. 1389–90. The authors report:

“Methods: Records from 60 patients seen in a pediatric emergency department for tornado-related injuries were reviewed to identify the use of injury prevention devices.

Results: Three children directly exposed to a violent tornado (Enhanced Fujita Scale 4) were using safety equipment, specifically, a helmet and infant car seats. These 3 children sustained only minor injuries.

Conclusions: Personal protective devices may have played a role in preventing child injuries from tornadoes. To our knowledge, this is the first report in the medical literature on helmet and infant car seat use as child protective devices during tornadoes.”