City officials urge storm preparation

By Alyssa Sperrazza, News Editor

Spring in Oklahoma brings rain showers and tornado sirens.

With storm season lasting from late March to early August, city officials are urging caution, telling the public to take the necessary steps in preparing for a storm.

“Wherever you are, you need to have a plan for severe weather,” City Emergency Manager Don Lynch said.

“The first part of that plan is to know how you’re going to get information about the weather.  So I recommend everyone have a least two means of getting that information [about severe weather warnings and watches].”

Having a weather radio on hand can do this, and these usually cost around $30.

“[Weather radios] are good investments to have, and another thing that’s good is weather apps from the television stations like the four major networks in Oklahoma City,” Lynch said.

“They all have an app; they’re all good, and they all provide information about what’s going on.  Whatever your favorite station is, download that app.”

The four major networks in OKC — KOCO (News 5), KWTV (News 9), KFOR (News Channel 4) and KOKH (Fox 25) –- all provide free apps for Apple and Android devices, allowing Oklahomans to stay up-to-date during severe weather.

“The second [part of a plan] is to know what to do when you get that information,” Lynch said.

It is important to understand the difference between a watch and a warning.

Knowing the difference can help prepare for severe weather.

“A watch means that the atmosphere is favorable for the development of severe weather,” Lynch said.

“It’s not occurring right now, but you need to watch the weather because sometime in the next six to eight hours, that’s usually how long a watch is issued for, we expect that severe weather will develop and effect the area.”

If a watch is issued, it does not imply the need to cancel any plans, but it is vital to remain alert and continually check information coming in about the weather.

“When a warning is issued, then it’s important to take immediate precautions,” Lynch said.

If you are in a warning area, it is strongly advised you take shelter immediately.

A weather radio or app will help you stay up-to-date with the storm, knowing where it is at any given moment as you take shelter.

“In Shawnee, we have a network of outdoor warning devices, so sirens, in the community,” Lynch said. “Those were originally put in in the 1960s for nuclear attack purposes.  They were designed to warn people outside if a nuclear attack occurred, that they’d need to get in and hunker down and duck and cover.”

With nuclear threats no longer relevant, the city realized that the sirens could then be used for a more realistic reason and turned them into tornado sirens.

“As Shawnee grows, we’re looking to put some more in various areas to get the coverage we want to have,” Lynch said.

Sirens, though, are not the only thing people need to listen to when severe weather is in the area.

Designed to notify people to pay attention, the sirens act as the first line of defense.

It is important that, once a siren is heard, shelter is taken immediately before seeking more information.

“We don’t do all clears on sirens, so when the sirens go off in a severe weather event, it means severe weather is imminent, and you need to take shelter,” Lynch said. “So if you’re in a shelter and the sirens go off again, that means another storm is coming.  It’s not an all clear and we want people to understand that.”

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are two types of shelters that are adequate for storms – standalones and internal.

The FEMA website said that “A standalone shelter is a separate building (i.e., not within or attached to any other building) that is designed and constructed to withstand the range of natural and manmade hazards. An internal shelter is a specially designed and constructed room or area within or attached to a larger building that is structurally independent of the larger building and is able to withstand the range of natural and manmade hazards.”

Tornados are not a rare occurrence in Oklahoma, so only a detrimental one with massive damage makes national news.

Fortunately, those massive twisters do not occur often.

“The numbers of tornados that occur every year throughout the entire country, about two percent of those tornados are the big EF4, EF5 tornados.  So 98 percent of the rest of them are smaller tornados,” Lynch said.

These numbers don’t lessen the importance of taking shelter when the sirens go off or when news alerts are sent out.  It is better to be safe rather than sorry.

“Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of buildings in Shawnee that can serve as storm shelters,” Lynch said. “We found that so many people were waiting till the last minute to come that it was putting them in harms way.”

The only public shelter available in Shawnee is located at North Rock Creek School.  It is important that the public know that this shelter is only available for use when school is not in session.  If school is in session, shelter will have to be taken elsewhere.

In the panic of a storm approaching, it is dangerous for people to be driving towards a shelter, especially if a person waits until it is too late. 

If taking shelter in a public area is no longer an option, staying at home is the best alternative.

“If you have a cellar, storm shelter, safe room or basement available, go immediately to that area,” Emergency Medical Services Authority stated. “If none of these options are available to you, get to the lowest level of your home. Get to a windowless interior room, such as a bathroom, closet or inner hallway.

Stay as far from windows as possible, go to the center of the room – corners tend to attract debris. Get under a sturdy piece of furniture; heavy table or desk, and hold on to it.”

OBU’s emergency plan gives students parimeteres on what to do during severe weather.

“In the event of threatening weather, while in housing, students will be notified by the Residential Life Staff who will direct all students to take cover any time there is a tornado warning in the vicinity,” the website states.

Raley is the designated shelter for OBU.

Being vigilant in the midst of a storm watch or warning is vital.  To stay up to date, again, make sure to have a weather app, radio and follow the City Emergency Management for Shawnee. 

Their website is http://www.shawneeok.org/PublicSafety/EmergencyManage.

You can also follow the city of Shawnee on Twitter  @CityofShawnee.

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