In late April, the people of Texas saw severe storm and tornado devastation first-hand, but many survived these deadly storms because they were prepared. The message is clear— severe storm and tornado preparation pays off.

The best defense against tornadoes is making preparedness a priority. Severe storms and tornadoes can approach quickly, and there may be only a short amount of time to make life-or-death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving.

There are basic steps everyone can take to prepare for and to survive severe storms and tornadoes.

Assemble an emergency kit that should include flashlight and extra batteries; portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries; first aid kit; emergency food and water; non-electric can opener; essential medicines; cash and credit cards; bedding or a sleeping bag; and sturdy shoes and a change of clothes. Create a family communication plan, so that if your family is not together when a tornado strikes, you’ll have contact numbers to keep in touch. Sometimes calling an out-of-state relative as a main point of contact is a good idea, since phone lines may be down. Also, families at home need to “shelter in place” during a tornado. Plan to meet family members in the lowest part of the home, preferably a basement. If there is no basement, choose an interior room where there are few or no windows.

Learn these tornado danger signs:

An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible; Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still; and Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

If a tornado is sighted, heed the following advice:

The most important rule is to get low and stay low. Seek shelter in an interior room on the lowest floor of the home, such as a bathroom, closet or room without windows. In an office building, go to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor. Leave your mobile home and take shelter in a nearby building. If no building is nearby, lie flat in a ditch or ravine. Never stay inside a car. Leave the car and lie flat in a ditch or a ravine. If a building is nearby, take shelter inside. Never try to outrun a tornado in your car. At school, follow plans and go to a designated shelter area, usually interior hallways on the lowest floor. Avoid auditoriums, gyms and areas with wide, free-span roofs. Go to the interior rooms and halls on the lowest floor of a shopping center. Do not leave the shopping center to get in your car. If you are in open country, take cover on low, protected ground. Avoid areas near exterior glass or doors, areas along exterior walls or rooms with wide expanse roofs, such as auditoriums, cafeterias and gyms.

FEMA coordinates the federal government’s role in preparing for, preventing, mitigating the effects of, responding to, and recovering from all domestic disasters, whether natural or man-made, including acts of terror.

For more information on Texas disaster recovery, visit www.fema.gov or www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem.