Got a helmet? Experts now say they’re good to have in a tornado

Published 12:26 am Tuesday, April 29, 2014

With severe weather threatening Alabama this week, injury scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) recommend a helmet to help prevent head and neck injury. Following the devastating tornados that tore across Alabama in 2011, scientists at the UAB Injury Control Research Center published a research-driven commentary suggesting that helmets may prevent injury or death in severe weather situations and should be an essential addition to an individual’s tornado-safety preparations.

In the commentary, the researchers recommend “the use of any helmet, or head covering made of a hard material and worn to protect the head from injury, stored in an easily and readily accessible location in the home, workplace or vehicle for which one of its purposes is to be worn in the event of or threat of tornadic activity.”

They describe a safety helmet as any structurally sound helmet, such as a motorcycle helmet, football helmet, baseball helmet, bicycle helmet, skateboard helmet, or even a construction hardhat; as long as the helmet’s original intended purpose is to minimize anatomical damage sustained as a result of high-velocity impacts.

Alabama is the nationwide leader in tornado-related deaths with 412 fatalities recorded since 1980, demonstrating the need for a readily available, low-cost intervention to reduce risk.

According to the medical examiner’s office in Jefferson County, Ala., at least 11 of the 21 fatalities in the county in the wake of the massive April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak resulted from head or neck injuries.


The ICRC commentary stresses that research had shown that most tornado-associated injuries and deaths result when people or solid objects become airborne and most victims suffer multiple traumatic injuries, including injuries to the head and neck. Head injuries have a statistically higher case-fatality rate of 23 percent versus the 3 percent case-fatality rate of all other injuries combined.