Background Tornadoes, with warnings usually issued just minutes before their touchdowns, pose great threats to properties and people's physical and mental health. Few studies have empirically investigated the association of family emergency preparedness planning and observed protective behaviors in the context of tornadoes. Purpose The purpose of this study was to examine predictors for the action of taking shelter at the time of tornadoes. Specifically, this study investigated whether having a family emergency preparedness plan was associated with higher likelihood of taking shelter upon receiving tornado warnings. This study also examined the effects of socioeconomic status and functional limitations on taking such actions. Methods A telephone survey based on random sampling was conducted in 2012 with residents in Tuscaloosa AL and Joplin MO. Each city experienced considerable damages, injuries, and casualties after severe tornadoes (EF-4 and EF-5) in 2011. The working sample included 892 respondents. Analysis was conducted in early 2013. Results Logistic regression identified emergency preparedness planning as the only shared factor that increased the likelihood of taking shelter in both cities and the only significant factor in Joplin. In Tuscaloosa, being female and white also increased the likelihood of taking shelter. Disability was not found to have an effect. Conclusions This study provided empirical evidence on the importance of having a family emergency preparedness plan in mitigating the risk of tornadoes. The findings could be applied to other rapid-onset disasters.