Friday, April 25, 2014

Official: Designate a safe place before disaster

By ABBY CROSTHWAIT, Herald Staff Writer | 5/22/2013

Have a plan.

After the recent outbreak of severe weather in Tornado Alley and the destruction left after the tornado Monday in Moore, Okla., Alan Radcliffe said staying safe during severe weather is dependent on a plan.

Have a plan.

After the recent outbreak of severe weather in Tornado Alley and the destruction left after the tornado Monday in Moore, Okla., Alan Radcliffe said staying safe during severe weather is dependent on a plan.

“People need to have plans ahead of time,” Radcliffe, Franklin County Emergency Management director, said. “If you live in a neighborhood, talk to your neighbors, see who has basements and if you’d be able to go to their house for sheltering.”

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that ripped through Moore, Okla., Monday is being graded as an EF-5 because of the amount of damage assessed. An EF-5 grade means the tornado had winds of 200 mph or more. According to CNN’s website, the state medical examiners office had confirmed Wednesday afternoon that 24 people — including nine children — died in the tornado.

Radcliffe said that, according to the National Weather Service, the tornado hit Newcastle, Okla., 16 minutes after the sirens had gone off, and hit in Moore, Okla., 30 to 40 minutes after that, giving residents ample time to take the necessary precautions.

“Those people had 30 minutes of warning,” he said. “Now surely, if you’re in that path and you don’t have a shelter, if you have a plan — even if that plan says I’m going to get in my car and drive somewhere else — that’s a plan.”

Relying on tornado sirens to alert people of a possible tornado is not the best option, Radcliffe said. There’s a lag time between when the National Weather Service sends out the alert, and the time the dispatch center is able to sound the sirens.

“If you use an all hazards weather radio, which I encourage all people to have in their home, that’s the best way to get notified,” he said. “Do not rely on the sirens. You’ll get notified quicker with an all hazards radio than waiting for [the alert] to go through the dispatch center because there’s a little bit of a delay getting [the alert] to our first responders.”

With many people carrying smartphones, weather applications are another way to receive alerts, texts, or emails about severe weather or tornadoes, Radcliffe said. Having a back-up plan for the back-up plan is never a bad idea.

“I don’t rely on just one [application],” he said. “Now granted when you have a thunderstorm warning or tornado warning, you’re going to get multiple ways of being notified, but that’s the whole point.”

Adequate shelter

In the event of severe weather or tornado warnings, finding shelter and having a plan of where the shelter is and how to get there could be the difference between life and death, Radcliffe said.

“In Franklin County, there are no community shelters that are identified,” he said. “There are some churches in the community that open up, but there are no city or government agencies that have identified shelters. People need to have a plan.”

Some churches offer shelter during severe weather, but government and healthcare agencies are not places to go during severe weather, Radcliffe said.

“Hospitals are not shelters,” he said. “I’ve talked with Larry Felix, the administrator [at Ransom Memorial Hospital], in the past. Yes, people have come there and they don’t turn them away, but they don’t have the staff to take care of them. We don’t want people going there, the sheriff’s office, police department — they’re not places to go.”

For those homes without basements or safe rooms (rooms that can withstand a certain mile per hour wind gust), deciding the location of the best place to take shelter during a storm can be difficult, Radcliffe said. Even if there is shelter, it might not withstand a tornado.

“The smallest room in the center of your house is typically the safest,” he said. “I can tell you though if an EF-4 or an EF-5 tornado is a direct hit on that building, there may not be a safe place.”

School safety

Two elementary schools were hit in the Moore, Okla., tornado, leaving many children unaccounted for. One of the schools, Plaza Tower Elementary, was not equipped with a safe room, something Radcliffe said could’ve saved lives.

“Today if you build a school, you shouldn’t even consider building one without a safe room in it,” Radcliffe said. “[The safe room] should be able to handle all the students at maximum capacity at that school.”

Radcliffe said when it comes to building basements or safe rooms in schools, the issue is the cost, and the important safety precaution often can get overlooked if the price is too much.

“A lot of this comes down to funding,” he said. “Do you have enough money? ... It all comes back to money.”

If a school does not have a safe room or a basement, Radcliffe said, it’s up to the school to determine which area students will go to stay safe from severe weather.

“[Schools] will have trouble getting an architect to come in and say, ‘This is the safest area for you,’” he said. “Because once he says that, then his architectural license may be on the line if something happens.”

Necessary

supplies

When planning for any sort of disaster, whether it’s tornadoes, fires, earthquakes or other natural disasters, Radcliffe said, families should have adequate amounts of food and supplies to last for 72 hours.

“Even if you do have a shelter, [Moore, Okla., rescuers] have been digging people out who have been there overnight,” he said. “Have a to-go kit that leaves your house and goes with you in case you can’t get back in. If you’re in that shelter and you’ve got debris on top of you and you can’t get back out, have flashlights, a little bit of food and water with you so you keep everybody calm until you can get back out.”

Places like Walmart Supercenter and Home Depot sell emergency safety family kits on their websites that include such supplies as flashlights, batteries, tool kits, thermal emergency blankets and rain ponchos. The Ready website, www.ready.gov, a national public service campaign, has a downloadable recommended supplies list for families to create their own emergency safety kits.

“You can’t just have whatever you think you need, and look at it and say ‘OK, I’ve got my to-go bag or I’ve got my kit,’ and you never look at it again until you need it,” he said. “That doesn’t work. You’re doing a little bit of planning ahead of time.”

Safety plans for businesses and events

Tornadoes can hit at any time, not just during hours when people are home, Radcliffe said, which is why businesses need to have emergency safety plans, as do community organizers who are playing host to indoor and outdoor events.

“When we have our county fair here, we do a plan,” he said. “In that is a severe weather plan and an evacuation plan. We already know ahead of time that there’s no way on-site to provide shelter for those people. But we’ve looked at the plans, and we’ve determined that this is this best thing we can do to protect those people.”

Larry Felix, chief executive officer of Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa, knows how important having a plan in place can be. Felix was chief operating officer of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center of Northern Oklahoma in Ponca City before coming to Ransom Memorial Hospital about 13 years ago, he said.

The procedures used by the Moore Medical Center staff to evacuate patients and personnel from the second floor of that hospital minutes before it was severely damaged by Monday’s tornado undoubtedly saved lives, Felix said.

“They evacuated patients from the second floor of the Moore hospital, which is the same procedure we follow [at Ransom] if a tornado warning is issued [for Ottawa],” Felix said. “Our practice is to move all people off the second floor to interior spaces on the first floor or basement.”

The Moore hospital sustained a direct hit from the tornado, causing extensive damage to the second floor. The community hospital, Felix said, was the same size as Ransom Memorial.

“I saw pictures of the hospital, and the second floor looks like it was pretty much obliterated,” Felix said. “If patients or hospital staff would have been on that floor, some would have been injured or killed. All hospitals have these kind of procedures in place to protect people when an incident like this occurs. Sure, it can be a hassle to move everyone, but the Moore hospital is a perfect example of why we do it.”

What plan works for one family or business might not work for another, Radcliffe said, and the decision is up to the family or business.

“I can’t tell you,” he said. “What works for me, may not work for you. That’s a decision you have to make. How far you want to go, how much money you want to spend. The whole point is to have a plan.”

It’s the difference between life and death, Radcliffe said.

“Right or wrong, have a plan,” he said.

Herald Senior Writer Doug Carder contributed to this report.

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