What is already known:
What this study adds:
On 03 March 2019 an EF4 tornado struck Lee County, Alabama killing 23 people. Shortly thereafter a team of social scientists and engineers traveled to the damage path to pilot a protocol for an upcoming two-year study to combine interviews of direct survivors with the engineering assessment and larger wind context of residential structures. In the United States, 70% of all tornado fatalities occur in a residential structure; the Southeast United States sees a higher rate than the national average. Known factors that affect vulnerability include a higher proportion of mobile and manufactured homes, higher population density throughout rural areas, and lower or non-personalized perception of the risk of violent tornadoes. This paper focuses on survivors’ knowledge and the communications they received prior to making sheltering decisions. On two trips, 38 participants were interviewed at 27 homesites. These interviews were transcribed and coded both inductively and deductively for communication modes. The coding was aimed at learning how survivors knew about the tornado before it struck, if they did. The resulting major communication mode codes were the chance of tornadoes, TV coverage, a friend or relative, phone alerts, outdoor warning device, and weather radio. Of these 27 homesites, it was found that people at 24 of them had more than one type of communication mode before they took action. In addition, 23 of the 27 homesites had a non-human source: the tornado itself. Participants at all but two homesites sheltered in place; those two did not seek shelter, unaware of the tornado.