The Set Step

This three-part series on safety planning continues. In the first installment, we explored the most important aspect of preparing for an emergency – the “Ready” step. This is an opportunity to take a big picture view of vulnerabilities in a business with respect to weather threats. Once the plan is prepared, you will be ready for the next phase.

In this phase, a threat has been identified and you need to put some of the plans established in the “Ready” step into motion. When it comes to severe weather, this is where the NWS drills down from the general, broad-based approach in the “Ready” step to a more defined focus. Severe weather watches for thunderstorms and tornadoes are identified. These are usually defined over a large area covering several states and are issued several hours before any storms have actually formed. It signals a high degree of confidence that “something” will happen.

This is a good time to take a quick detour to explain the difference between the two weather alert words which have confused many. They both begin with the same two letters, but mean very different things: “Watch” and “Warning”.

A Watch is your “heads up” that storms are very likely, but the NWS can’t narrow it down to a specific, precise location. Therefore, watch areas can encompass all or parts of several states and are issued well in advance of an actual confirmed storm. The intent is to give those in the watch area time to adjust their lives and prepare for when worst is expected.

A Warning means that the threat – tornado, severe thunderstorm or flash flood is happening NOW and it requires that those in the warning take immediate safety action. The NWS is tracking an actual storm in this case which has been seen by the human eye or its effects are being detected by radar or other means.

Many WeatherCall hospital clients activate certain parts of their emergency plan when a watch is issued. They may need, for example, to adjust staffing schedules, postpone surgeries or prepare to move sensitive patients. Granted, an actual dangerous storm may not yet exist, but these organizations are basically playing “Beat The Clock” to ensure they can react when they know the danger is imminent.

For others, the Set step could mean performing critical system backups and staging supplies in the shelter or safe place locations, so they can be easily accessed when needed. Or, it could mean starting generators, preparing alternate work sites and moving personnel. This could also be a time to check that all communication methods are functioning properly.

While no actual storm is present yet during the “Set” step, the clock is ticking. So, an important aspect of emergency planning revolves around the time it takes to act when disaster strikes. Of course, it will be different for each organization ranging from minutes to hours. Be sure you take careful consideration that your plan accounts for this variance.

In the final installment, we’ll round things out with the “Go” step. This is when the danger is realized, and warnings are issued. For a copy of the first installment on the “Ready” Step, email

Gene Norman is a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist who has helped businesses enhance their safety process as well as provided weather education to community and civic organizations. Learn more about how WeatherCall Enterprise helps businesses with their continuity plans here.