GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. - Picking up the pieces is what we do after a tornado strikes, but what about before?
What about right before?
Would you know what to do if you were not at home? Are plans in place to guide you?
Over the last several weeks, KARE 11 has teamed with MPR News and created a simulation of a major tornado on track to hit Minneapolis.
While not all businesses are required to have a disaster plan in place, officials believe most do.
"Only certain businesses, such as those with chemicals or hazardous waste onsite, are required to have a disaster plan in place. Yet, no businesses are required in Minnesota to submit a disaster plan to the state," said James Honerman, spokesperson with the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
And while every location we profiled along the path has a plan of action, we discovered those actions may not be enough to prevent injuries or death.
"I think the most important question is who is left out, who you aren't reaching currently," said University of Minnesota geography professor and tornado researcher Ken Blumenfeld.
Blumenfeld is one of the very few doing research on twisters that hit metro areas.
He says although the tornado that struck north Minneapolis last year killed one person and left destruction in its wake, the twister was relatively weak compared to a large tornado.
He believes it is only a matter of time before something big happens here.
"Will it affect the Twin Cities? Will it affect Minneapolis? Definitely," Blumenfeld said.
The tornado simulation starts in Shakopee and will eventually grow to speeds of about 200 miles per hour as an EF-4, the second strongest on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
It is 6:30 p.m. in our simulation. Sirens are sounding in Scott and Hennepin Counties. Broadcasters in the Twin Cities would be on the air warning people of the danger.
A weak tornado touchdown is reported at Valleyfair in Shakopee, one of the most vulnerable in our simulation because people are so spread out.
Valleyfair's head of security Harold Armstrong recently showed us one of their strongest shelters; what he calls a level-1 building. He says the park has more than ten of these concrete buildings.
It's estimated 5,000 people are at Valleyfair as our simulated tornado rolls through. The park does not have room for everyone in these level-1 buildings. But they are confident they can fit the rest, if need be in other less secure buildings that are not as wind resistant.
"It's a very large park yet we break it down to areas so it's manageable in very short period of time," said Armstrong.
In our scenario, a recorded message plays over the speaker system keeping people updated throughout every stage of the storm.
By now in the scenario, portions of the park would be shut down and employees would have escorted people to shelters.
There are no signs, however indicating where those shelters are located, something the National Weather Service recommends.
"You just never quite know for sure if you're going to have staff available to direct people here and there," said Todd Krause, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Armstrong believes they have enough staff to guide people to safety. And they go over the plan at least once a year.
But here is where planning can only go so far. No business can force you to take shelter; they rely on you to listen to them. The responsibility is yours.
Our simulated twister is gaining steam as it approaches the Eden Prairie Center.
When a warning is issued, a mall employee would make an announcement over the speaker system directing employees to shelter customers.
At 6:35 p.m., the simulated tornado is on the ground near the mall.
"They're essential directed to one of the shelters in the shopping centers like this one," said General Manager Nancy Litwin as she entered a shelter in the basement.
There are four main sheltered areas that she estimates can fit thousands. The best place is in the basement, but there are designated concrete shelters on both floors, all indicated by signs.
"I think its important shoppers should take notice of those shelter areas," she said.
We are back outside where our simulated tornado is gaining strength and at 6:40 p.m. it approaches Edina High School.
Classes are over and officials say after-school activities would probably be cancelled. But if they were not, a spokesperson tells me staff would direct people to shelters. Signs are posted inside the school showing them where to go.
A few miles west sits the Edina Care and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home that houses nearly 130 people.
"Once we know we're in a warning, we'll go ahead, we'll put them into a safe area, which is the corridors," said Kenneth Monpas, a spokesperson with Edina Care.
Monpas and his staff have the toughest challenge in our simulation because their residents are either frail or sick.
They move as many of them to the northeast corridors as they can since most tornados come from the southwest.
"It's all a matter of how much notice you get and how well you can execute the plan that you have in place," said Deborah Perry with Edina Care.
But it's in the execution where many nursing homes fall short, according to a study released last month by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In it, regulators found that a vast majority surveyed had plans in place but when they implemented those plans many were unprepared.
Edina Care says its staff trains multiple times a year and it will use the federal report to review its plan.
But at wind speeds of nearly 200 miles per hour, Kent Durenberger wonders if any plan can match Mother Nature.
"This is Mother Nature's force and there is no stopping it," said Durenberger of Mankato.
Durenberger survived the massive tornado in Joplin, Missouri last year while shopping in Walmart. Employees were already telling people to take cover as he walked in.
"There's just no time. I think the best thing is when you see dark clouds get the radio on and see what's happening," he said.
That is crucial advice in our simulation for fans heading to the Twins game.
It is now 7:00 p.m. The simulated storm is almost over. The tornado is strong but weakening as it approaches Target Field.
"You can move few thousand people quite quickly if they're walking quickly enough," said Target spokesperson Kevin Smith.
Smith showed us the belly of Target Field recently. It is surrounded in concrete.
They also have a meteorologist on site every home game. And they're one of only three private businesses in Minnesota the National Weather Service certified as "storm ready".
"We don't want to come off sounding we have all the answers and that no matter what happens everything is fine. You never know," said Smith.
Target Field officials did face questions last year when sirens were going off in Hennepin County after a tornado warning, but they never told fans. They claim they did not want to create a panic.
"Our information was from our meteorologist, from DTN, from the weather service, that actually the tornado activity was actually decreasing," Smith said.
DTN is a weather consulting company that the Twins use, along with other forms of information.
In our scenario many of the fans, however would still be in route to the game.
"The unknown is how will the public respond?" asked Hennepin County Emergency Management Director Eric Waage.
Waage says the best plan requires people to make smart choices that could ultimately save their lives.
"The single most important element in the safety of an individual is that individual," he said. "It's the decisions they make."
And while planning for Mother Nature's uncertainty is no easy task, Blumenfeld believes it has to be done.
"I think we're moving in the right direction, but I think we have some work to do," said Blumenfeld.
(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)