Monday, April 27, 2015
How Alabama made tornado helmets a standard for protection
Hey, it's tornado season. Let's take inventory.
Flashlight, check. Batteries, check. Weather radio, check. Helmet, check.
Since April 27, 2011, many people have added a helmet to their traditional tornado preparedness kit.
Be it bicycle helmet, motorcycle helmet, football helmet or baseball helmet, as a form of tornado protection got a big boost after that 2011 tornado outbreak which killed 254 people in Alabama.
Several things came together to ignite that explosion of awareness.
There was the Pleasant Grove boy who, wearing a softball helmet with a mask, was blown from his house , soaring nearly as high as the telephone lines, his mother said, but escaped serious injury although he hit his head on landing.
There was the revelation that at least 11 of 21 people were killed by head injury in Jefferson County following a review of coroner reports by AL.com/ Birmingham News. Several other causes of death were uncertain but might have been head injury. Other coroners around the state related that the single largest cause of death by tornado was head trauma. There was a University of Alabama at Birmingham 50-year review of historical literature which found numerous examples of anecdotal evidence that wearing a helmet saved lives during tornadoes. So the recipe for helmet awareness was in place.
The case of the Pleasant Grove boy, Noah Stewart, 8 at the time, was documented by his doctor, Mark Baker, who also noted the benefit of car seats as tornado protection for infants.
Then-Jefferson County medical examiner Robert Brissie, now deceased, said helmets could have saved some of those 11 who died of head injuries.
The researchers with the UAB Injury Control Research Center called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- which dispenses advice on tornado safety -- to instruct people to wear helmets.
As it was, the CDC website at the time urged people to "protect your head with anything available -- even your hands" -- but never mentioned helmets.
A wave of publicity followed, and questions from news organizations to the CDC -- whose national mission is to reduce injury and death -- had an effect. In May of 2012 the CDC acknowledged on their website that using helmets could be an option when sheltering for tornadoes.
Today on its website CDC has a special statement highlighted called "Helmet and Tornado Statement."
Since April 27, 2011, tornado safety activist Renee Crook has organized helmet giveaways at various events including Birmingham Barons games.
She estimates that they have given away 600 helmets. In fact, Crook is behind a tornado safety program tonight at the Barons game. While there won't be helmet giveaways this time, there will be helmet testimonials from tornado survivors and some weather radios given away.
Earlier, AL.com, using the analysis of the UAB Injury Control Research Center that the best helmets for protection would be those that offer head, neck and face protection, listed the top helmets for protection:
1) An American Motorcycle Association-approved helmet with a full face shield providing head and neck protection is the top helmet and is easily accessible. But a good motorcycle helmet can cost many hundreds of dollars.
2) Football helmet. A football helmet is designed to protect the head and face, including the sides of the head. It should be one approved for full contact. A good football helmet can cost more than $200.
3) Some softball and baseball helmets, such as the one worn by the 8-year-old Pleasant Grove boy, cover most of the head and have a face guard. These helmets can be bought for well under $100.
Bicycle helmets also are typically less expensive than a motorcycle or football helmet and offer some measure of protection. But they don't cover the full head and do not have face protection. Other helmets that might offer great protection during a tornado, but may not be as accessible, include firefighter's helmets, construction hardhats, and military/combat helmets.
AL.com this week partners with ABC-33/40 and James Spann to bring you Tornado Week, seven days of stories on the state's most deadly weather phenomenon For more on Tornado Week, go to AL.com/weather and Spann's Weather Blog.