This is not a drill: Avera employee recounts tornado experience

Local News

We’ve all participated in tornado drills- probably a lot of them. They become routine, so we do them without much thought. For people in Sioux Falls last Tuesday night, it wasn’t a drill.

Noah Weber, a behavioral health tech for Avera Health, was working in the Avera Behavioral Health Center when the weather took a turn for the worse. Around 11:00 on Tuesday night, security said there was a tornado warning, he explains.

“We’ve done the drill a bunch of times, I was very comfortable, all the staff knew what to do, so we started getting the patients out of their rooms, most of them were either sleeping or falling asleep, so we just went room to room,” Weber said.

Only, this time it wasn’t a drill.

“Maybe a little after 11:20, 11:25 or so, everything just kind of switched, and you could hear glass break, windows just kind of smash, and then the wind came in really strong and was just very loud, and so yeah, things are just kind of blowing around, and then everyone’s covering their heads, I was on top of a fellow staff member, covering her up, and then you could just hear things falling from the ceiling, just the tiles and lights kind of just falling down, sparks and things,” Weber said.

“The staff were phenomenal, not only in that moment of helping patients,” said Thomas Otten, assistant vice president for Avera McKennan Behavioral Health. “Some of the stories and some of the things that I observed that night with our staff is truly just hard to believe how phenomenal they were in the crisis moment.”

A tornado can bring anxiety for anyone. This is a place where people come to get help with the condition.

“These are people with chronic anxiety and PTSD, so just being aware that this is going to have a big effect on them, so just kind of assessing how different people were doing,” Weber said.

In the end, no patients or staff suffered any life-threatening injuries.

“Obviously, we lost big chunks of our building, but a building can be replaced,” Otten said. “People can not.”

The tornado that hit Avera was one of three that touched down in the city on Tuesday night. Avera Health says all inpatient and outpatient behavioral health care is open and available to the public right now. Some inpatient behavioral health care is happening in Yankton.

Also, we’ve learned from the office of South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem that the state Department of Social Services and Avera Behavioral Health are partnering to help patients impacted by the tornado.

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