In the light of recent tornado devastation, many Oklahomans are re-evaluating their emergency safety plans.
Mayes County Emergency Management will move their offices into the new Pryor City Hall. The office will be EF5 certified. Being EF5 certified means that the room has met the Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, part of which means being soundly constructed and able to withstand up to 200-mph winds. An EF5 tornado is the highest on the scale.
Mayor Jimmy Tramel said this is not a place which is open to the public, however. In the past people have gone to the PYO building for shelter, though it is not a certified-safe structure. MCEM stresses that the PYO should be a last resort not a first choice, though they will continue to open the building even after their office has re-located.
The city of Pryor has no designated community safe room and Tramel encourages citizens to plan ahead to find a safe place close to home.
“We don’t want to encourage people to drive across town to get in the city hall building. It’s not that we don’t want them,” said Tramel. “If everyone is trying to drive over, the traffic is going to get backed up and waste precious minutes. Also, in the chaos of the moment people will be too panicked to drive safely. We don’t want to see driving accidents.”
Tramel said there are limitations on space and city codes on the number of people that a building can safely house. Other city safe rooms have run into problems, and eventually had to close, because of people trying to bring pets into the community shelter.
“The tornado damage is such a tragedy, it really is,” said Tramel. “Unfortunately, as a city we can’t account for absolutely everything. We can make sure that people have the knowledge and resources to prepare or themselves and their families.”
The city website features some emergency instructions and information about the outdoor warning sirens.
MCEM has a tornado shelter registry, which has been in place for three years, that shows the location of tornado shelters in a given area.
This way, if a tornado does come through Pryor, city workers and firefighters can come by and check a home to make sure a resident is not trapped inside your safe room under debris. MCEM encourages citizens to call or e-mail them with your name and address if you have a storm shelter to make sure their registry is up to date.
Both the existing Rogers State University Pryor Campus and the new campus being built in the MidAmerica Industrial Park area contain interior windowless spaces where people can shelter in case of severe storms.
RSU Public Relations Director David Hamby provided an excerpt of the current severe weather procedure for the Pryor campus which will later be revised for the new facility.
“The weather will be monitored by the director, campus police and area wardens. The city of Pryor maintains a city-wide outdoor defense warning siren that will be sounded in the even of a tornado warning.
Designated safe areas are located in the restroom vestibules at each end of the building. If the siren is sounded, immediately proceed to the designated areas at each end of the building,” the procedure explains.
RSU students and faculty are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the emergency plan which is available on the school website and posted within the building. Part of the plan includes being familiar with the building layout, knowing the location of fire alarms and fire extinguishers and knowing where the exits are.
The plan outlined on the website lists emergency contact information that could be printed and carried in a backpack or purse in case of emergency.
Pryor Public School Superintendent Don Raleigh has kept emergency preparedness in mind during the construction and renovation of school buildings.
Raleigh said that per state law, each school follows tornado protocol, including routine tornado drills. This helps students understand what the procedure will be in the event of an emergency. He said each teacher is also equipped with a tool kit that
provides emergency resources.
“Every time we build, whether it is new construction or renovation, we use the highest quality material possible,” Raleigh said of the concrete block construction.
“Since we are starting from scratch at Roosevelt we were able to include two built-in safe rooms,” said Raleigh.
The other schools follow the same rules as homes, moving students to interior rooms with no windows. For the most part, this means the restrooms.
There are a lot of variables when dealing with students, Raleigh said.
“We have a master enrollment and attendance tracking system that is internet based. However, kids move around within the building or are transitioning from the playground. There are too many variables to be completely certain what will happen despite having a plan in place,” said Raleigh.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Moore. This is as bad a situation as you can imagine,” said Raleigh. “It’s an unbelievably tough situation.”
Chouteau residents are encouraged first and foremost to have a plan in place for the family, said Chouteau Fire Chief Ted Key.
“When it comes time to take cover, people are encouraged to go to either the Early Childhood Center or Mazie School,” said Key. “The cafeteria of the Early Childhood Center is a certified shelter and Mazie School has a built-in safe room as well.”
The students and teachers are all aware of the tornado safety plan, like Pryor’s. They have routine drills to familiarize students with the concept of taking cover in an interior room away from windows. The hope with these drills is that the students will have a better understanding of what is happening and hopefully will be less panicked should they ever have to take cover. MCEM says all Pryor schools also have a weather radio in the buildling.
Adair Public Schools have a similar plan in place.
“Unfortunately we have primarily metal buildings, but we go above and beyond to make sure our staff and students are trained on emergency procedure,” said Adair School Superintendent Tom Linihan.
“We do drills regularly, every semester and there are poster-sized diagrams in every classroom showing students were their safe location is,” said Linihan. “Kids are taught to face the wall and get down on their knees, then cover their head as much as they can.”
He said that in the wake of disaster, as in disaster preparation, communication is key. He said there is no guaranteed system to ensure all students will be accounted for, but that communication between students and teachers and between teachers and administration is crucial.
MCEM encourages everyone to form an emergency plan for their household and to review and practice the plan with all members of the family and to work with their neighbors to make sure everyone is taken care of.