Amazon answers questions about safety changes year after deadly warehouse tornado

Published: Dec. 9, 2022 at 6:47 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2022 at 11:02 AM CST
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EDWARDSVILLE (KMOV) -- For the first time since the days after six people were killed in a tornado at an Edwardsville, Illinois, Amazon warehouse, Amazon is talking publicly about safety changes.

Recent reporting by News 4 Investigates exposed how calls for safety changes at warehouses and to building codes have largely gone unanswered.

On December 10, 2021, six Amazon employees died as they tried to take cover in a bathroom. The warehouse did not have a storm shelter. Amazon says it had a designated “shelter in place area,” which was described as a windowless part of the warehouse.

Amazon’s Director of Global Media Relations, Kelly Nantel, addressed changes that have been made since the storm.

Nantel told News 4 Investigates that all warehouse employees and visitors are now required to wear ID cards that include a building floor plan, information on what to do in various emergencies, and where to take shelter in the event of severe weather.

“We have also increased the amount of training that we provide our managers and our employees. Every employee goes through training and orientation,” Nantel said. “We do two drills every quarter to make sure that we’re touching as many employees as we can so that they’re practicing how they would respond in an emergency situation.”

According to Nantel, Amazon is also using FEMA guidelines when making emergency plans at locations. Nantel said FEMA specialists have been called into multiple warehouses to help determine the safest place in the building during severe weather.

Nantel confirmed that the tornado prompted Amazon to hire a Chief Meteorologist, a position that was first reported on by News 4 Investigates.

“This meteorologist allows us not only to just monitor the new weather but to project whether we saw that become really helpful in the hurricanes in Florida. We were able to predict 10 days out before the hurricanes and we could mobilize much more quickly, bring in goods that we knew we were going to need,” Nantel said. “Also, be able to close sites so that we could send employees home so that they could take care of their families and get out of harm’s way.”

The Edwardsville warehouse is currently being rebuilt, but the design hasn’t changed and the plan doesn’t include a storm shelter. Amazon does not own the building, the company leased the warehouse after it was built.

When News 4 Investigates asked Nantel why a storm shelter isn’t being added, she responded, “I think it’s important to remember that we’re a tenant at the warehouse and that the landlord is required to restore the building to its pre-tornado condition, and that’s what he’s doing. That doesn’t mean that we’re not having conversations with them, but what we’re focused on right now are the things we have control over. So those policy and procedure changes enhancing our training programs and things like that where we know we can make a meaningful difference.”

Nantel added that no Amazon warehouses have storm shelters.

The Edwardsville tornado is the second time Amazon employees have died in a warehouse during severe weather. Two employees died in 2018 when an EF-1 tornado hit an Amazon warehouse in Baltimore.

According to Nantel, Amazon is not ruling out storm shelters at warehouses.

“Our network is more than 800 facilities just in North America alone. Something like that is a massive undertaking and it’s going to take time for us to research, to talk with experts and structural engineers and really determine what is the most effective to ensuring the safety of our employees. Those conversations are ongoing,” Nantel said.

Amazon said there is no set date for when employees will begin working out of the space affected by the tornado again.

Congresswoman Cori Bush released the following statement in recognition of the tragic one-year anniversary:

“Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Amazon warehouse tragedy in Edwardsville, which claimed the lives of two of my constituents - Deandre S. Morrow and Etheria Hebb – as well as four more of their coworkers - Austin McEwen, Clayton Lynn Cope, Larry Virden, and Kevin Dickey - after they were all forced to work during a tornado.

“This gut-wrenching loss was completely preventable. The safety of our workers, especially our most marginalized workers, should always come first. That is why over the past year, I have made it one of my priorities to prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again. I launched an investigation with the House Oversight Committee and introduced two bills that would ensure our workers are protected in climate disasters or extreme weather.

“I want every worker to know that I will continue to fight for their dignity, safety, and security in the workplace, including during climate disasters. Even as the climate crisis rages on, and disasters become more and more frequent, we cannot allow a repeat of what happened in Edwardsville one year ago. All our workers deserve better protection and care than what Amazon provided that day.”