Public Health

CDC Says Helmets Are No Match For Tornadoes, But They Might Not Hurt

Noah Stewart shelters in the closet just 15 minutes before an April 2011 tornado demolished his house. Wearing the helmet may have saved his life, one doctor says. i i

Noah Stewart shelters in the closet just 15 minutes before an April 2011 tornado demolished his house. Wearing the helmet may have saved his life, one doctor says. Courtesy of the Stewart family hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Stewart family
Noah Stewart shelters in the closet just 15 minutes before an April 2011 tornado demolished his house. Wearing the helmet may have saved his life, one doctor says.

Noah Stewart shelters in the closet just 15 minutes before an April 2011 tornado demolished his house. Wearing the helmet may have saved his life, one doctor says.

Courtesy of the Stewart family

Can a helmet protect you in a tornado?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there's no research on how effective helmets are in preventing head injuries during tornadoes.

But, in what looks like a first, the agency says, in effect, that it's not out of the question that they might help.

Last year, tornadoes claimed the lives of more than 500 people in the U.S. Some safety advocates say protecting your head with a sturdy helmet could help reduce injuries and deaths.

But when NPR's Russell Lewis asked the health gurus at the CDC about the merits of the approach, he didn't get much of an answer.

As he reported last week:

"The CDC website tells motorcyclists to wear helmets because they save lives; ditto for bicyclists.

But if a tornado is bearing down? The CDC recommends people use their hands to protect their heads. It makes no mention of a helmet.

For three months we tried to interview someone from the CDC, but the agency would only email a statement, which said: 'The scientific evidence from helmet use during tornadoes is inadequate to make a recommendation.' "

Today, the CDC issued a statement that affirms the importance of getting yourself to a safe place, such as a basement, or deep in a ditch or gully if you're outside. That's nothing new.

Can Helmets Cut Tornado Risks?

But the agency says it recognizes that people facing down a tornado want to protect themselves however they can. "Individuals may decide to use helmets to protect their heads," the agency says. And it's not telling people to refrain from doing so.

Since time is likely to be short in a heavy-weather emergency, the agency recommends that you have a helmet ready to go in your emergency kit, if you think you'll want to use one. You don't want to be fumbling around for one as a funnel cloud draws near.

Of course, a helmet alone is no match for a tornado. "For those who choose to use helmets, these helmets should not be considered an alternative to seeking appropriate shelter," the CDC says. "Rather, helmets should be considered just one part of their overall home tornado preparedness kit to avoid any delay."

For more information on how to prepare for a tornado, the CDC has some advice here.

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