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teaches a class on extreme weather
and last year led students tornado
chasing in Oklahoma and Texas.
The destructive power of torna-
dos has been well demonstrated,
and it's not just confined to the Great
Plains: a Flint tornado in 1953 killed
116 people and injured 844. Over the
years, Southeastern Michigan has
seen several F-2 tornados, which
support winds as high as 157 mph
and can uproot large trees.
Samson and DPS officials say the
best way to react in a tornado is to
do what you learned in elementary
school: go to a room in the center of
a building, away from windows and
loose objects and cover your head.
"If there's an approaching storm,
take it seriously," Samson said. "Get
yourself into a tornado shelter or a
On the whole, terrorism, fires
and extreme weather pose little
threat to students' daily lives. In his
Extreme Weather 101 class, Samson
routinely asks students to list, in
order, the most substantial threats
to their lives. Inevitably, someone
always lists a drastic scenario.
"Weather ends up being a thou-
sand times less risky than smok-
ing or obesity and a whole bunch
of other stuff. On the big scale, it's
not all that risky," he said. "Prob-
ably more people have died from
(car crashes cause by) fog than have
died from tornadoes in Washtenaw
A history of flopped
Emergency planning has rapidly
evolved over the 20th and 21st cen-
turies at a rapid pace. In the early
decades of the 1900s, Ann Arborites
were mostly at the mercy of the ele-
ments. A fire could whip through
rows of wooden boarding houses
with a vengeance. A good rain could
overrun the city's water system and
flood Central Campus.
A new fear cropped up in the Cold
War. Mass media and government
propaganda instilled apprehen-
sion of nuclear war. The University
wrote bomb drills into its safety
codes and secured fallout shelters
to house refugees of atomic war.
A pamphlet published in the early
1950s by the Detroit Office of Civil
Defense advised Michiganders that
their chances of living through an
atomic attack are "better than you
may have thought."
While a nuclear war never mate-
rialized, Cold War preparation
developed general emergency-plan-
ning techniques. State agencies had
to learn how to work with munici-
palities and emergency experts had
to find a way to communicate their
messages to the public.
Purported disasters that famous-
ly never came to be gave more tan-
gible contributions to emergency
The University poured man-
power into preparing for the
inevitable pandemonium that was
supposed to accompany Y2K, fig-
uring out how to keep students,
faculty, research projects and even
research animals safe in the event
of a disaster that was supposed to
wipe out phones, electricity and
When Jan. 1, 2000 proved large-
ly peaceful, safety officers found
themselves with a large stack of
plans and no emergency. It seemed
they had planned for something
that wasn't going to happen.
Not so. During the sweeping
power outages that blackened
almost one-third of the country in
August 2003, administrators dug
out the old plans. Thanks to back-
up energy and redundant water
mains, the hospital maintained
operations - even air condition-
"It wasn't like everything was
well-lit. We were all pretty dark.
The planning from Y2K was very
important there," Brown said.
The University's power plant has developed intricate contingency plans in case
of a disaster.
Sept. 11, 2001 helped evolve than 100 calls reporting suspicious
emergency planning even more. white powder.
Emergency plans had chapters on "None of them ever got close to
natural, nuclear, electronic and being anthrax," Brown said.
biological disasters, and admin- Most of the dust turned out to
istrators had practice executing be drywall or laundry detergent.
them. Still, the threats kept campus
In the following months, a sus- attentive and DPS responsive.
picious campus stayed fearful. University officials learned how to
Several politicians and journal- handle a deadly threat that could
ists in Washington and New York be mailed, released into air vents
received letters with traces of or dispersed in water supplies.
anthrax. Half a dozen people died. Had anything really happened,
During a period of several the infrastructure was there and
weeks, DPS responded to more response teams were ready.
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