Severe weather at Vanderbilt: Do you know what to do?

(image courtesy of NOAA)
(image courtesy of NOAA)

September is recognized as National Preparedness Month, which serves as a reminder that we all must take action to prepare—now and throughout the year—for the types of emergencies that could affect us where we work and live. Watch for a series of stories about emergency preparedness in MyVU during the month of September.

September is National Preparedness Month, and it’s a good time to revisit what to do in the event severe weather threatens the Vanderbilt community.

Historically, the spring months—especially March, April and May—are the most active for severe weather throughout the Southeast. However, tornadoes can occur at any time of year. Severe thunderstorms are mainly known for producing tornadoes, but they also can bring large hail and winds of more than 60 mph.

“It’s been several years since Nashville has been impacted by a large tornado, so many people have forgotten what to do in the event of severe weather. It’s important to have multiple ways to receive weather alerts and to know what to do when you receive them,” says Jeff Burrowes, a former broadcast meteorologist who now serves as a program coordinator with Vanderbilt University’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, Fire and Workplace Safety.

Vanderbilt Severe Weather Warning System

Vanderbilt contracts with a commercial weather monitoring company to alert the university whenever severe weather is approaching the Vanderbilt University campus, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and/or Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks. If a tornado is detected and is forecast to reach any of these locations within 15 minutes, the Vanderbilt Severe Weather Warning System is activated.

Sirens on the Vanderbilt University campus will sound, and overhead announcements in Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks will notify everyone of the approaching severe weather.

The Vanderbilt siren has a distinctive tone, similar to an air-raid siren. Click here to listen to a sound sample of Vanderbilt’s electronic sirens. Metropolitan Nashville/Davidson County may also sound its sirens; however, their sirens are not specific to Vanderbilt and are activated whenever the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Warning that includes any part of Davidson County.


Vanderbilt also employs a mass notification system known as “AlertVU” for use during emergencies. It is available free* to students, faculty and staff. AlertVU messages are automatically sent to all Vanderbilt email addresses; however, it is recommended that you have multiple ways to receive emergency notifications. Thus, Vanderbilt community members may also register other email addresses, landlines (for voice calls), and cellphones (for voice calls and text messages) to receive these critical alerts. Information provided by subscribers is private and will not be shared.

To register, update an existing account or find out more, visit Vanderbilt’s Emergency Preparedness website.

* There is no charge to receive AlertVU messages. If you choose to receive text messages, however, your cellphone carrier may charge you to receive them.

Desktop Alerts

The AlertVU desktop alert program displays full-screen alerts on workstations and desktops across the university. When an AlertVU message is activated, all computer monitors will display the alert and the user must acknowledge the message before being able to continue using the computer.

Severe_Weather_AwarenessIf you are not sure if the desktop alert program has been added to your desktop, have questions, or would like to request the service, contact VUIT at (615) 343-HELP.

The desktop alert software is available for use on your personal computer while you are using the Vanderbilt network. Downloads are available here. The software should not be downloaded to your office PC unless instructed by your desktop team; that will be handled centrally in most areas.

Tornado Warnings: What to Do

  • When an AlertVU is received and/or the tornado sirens on the main campus and the overhead announcements at the Medical Center and One Hundred Oaks campus sound, you should take shelter in the lowest level of the closest building.
  • Move toward the middle of the building, ensuring you are away from windows. Put as many walls between you and the outside as possible. Look for “Severe Weather Gathering Area” signs or ask where you should go.
  • Assist people with special needs.
  • Monitor weather reports.
  • An AlertVU message will be disseminated once the threat has passed.

For more information about preparing for severe weather as well as other types of emergencies, visit the Emergency Preparedness website.


SafeVU, a free mobile safety application for iOS and Android smartphones, allows users to connect directly from their cellphones to the Vanderbilt University Police Department.

With SafeVU you can:

  • Contact VUPD for emergency services with two easy taps
  • Submit nonemergency reports to VUPD with text, photos or videos
  • Submit information to VUPD anonymously
  • Assign contacts to monitor your safety at your request
  • Access information about Vandy Vans
  • View VUPD emergency guides