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Gundersen makes 'drastic' changes to tornado drill

Gundersen makes 'drastic' changes to tornado drill

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - One La Crosse organization knows the devastation caused by a tornado all too well. Now, they are taking extra precautions to prepare themselves in case a tornado hits our area again.

The tornado hit the city of La Crosse almost three years ago. The resident housing behind the Gundersen Health Systems was in the path of that tornado in May of 2011. Now those buildings have been restored and the medical center is working to make sure they are prepared if a tornado hits again.

Gundersen Health Systems has made some drastic changes to how they prepare for a tornado.

"Previously we were able to push patients out into the hallway close the doors off and that would have been the sheltering instructions. Now we're considering moving maybe just a little bit further to interior rooms that are across from where these patient's are," Tom Wright, emergency manager at Gundersen Health Systems, said.

Thursday staff did the first drill in its new Legacy Building--a drill that has been three years in the making.

"We began planning this safe room concept. Adjacent to patient's rooms, restrooms near patient's rooms would become those safe rooms," Wright said.

Thursday is a good day to practice for an emergency because it's the beginning of peak tornado season. La Crosse County officials say the season runs from about April to September and they, too, were out preparing for a natural disaster.

"We understand that not everybody is watching television or listening to a radio at that time, so we do have a small network of outdoor weather warning sirens," Keith Butler, emergency management coordinator for La Crosse County, said

Butler said the sirens aren't made to be heard indoors and recommends if a person can't hear the sirens they make sure they find a way to be alerted like a simple weather alert radio.

At Gundersen Health Systems they rely on their own automated system, so they're always prepared in the case of an emergency

"It's important because staff need to always have in the back of their mind how critical it is to be able to think in times of stress," Wright said.

Gundersen Health's emergency management team say they were pleased with how staff reacted in the first drill in its new building.

The La Crosse County Emergency Management coordinator warns that Wisconsin has seen a tornado in every month except for February. So the public should never let down their guard, even in the winter.

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