NORMAN — Norman residents have about six months to develop and practice plans to take shelter before tornado season returns.
Norman City Council members adopted an ordinance Tuesday officially eliminating the city’s designated public storm shelters. The shelters were at schools and city recreation centers and were not tornado safe by FEMA standards.
“The schools (where people were sheltering) are no safer than the average residential structure,” Norman Fire Chief James Fullingim said.
Fullingim said opening the shelters gives people a false sense of security. It also means people may be on the road when a tornado hits.
The Norman Fire Department, the Red Cross and the Central Region of the Oklahoma Emergency Management Association recommend sheltering in place as a best practice.
Fullingim said it is key for people to develop a personal and family safety plan for tornadoes and other emergencies and then to practice that plan so all family members are familiar with what to do in an emergency situation.
People should stay informed, Fullingim said. Often, severe storms are predicted several days out. While meteorologists are not able to predict the exact path of a tornado three days in advance, large, dangerous storms are often predicted to hit an area days ahead of time.
If a storm is predicted, people should stay tuned into weather channels and weather radio and prepare to take cover.
Fullingim said the average lead time on a tornado is 15 minutes, but it can be less than two minutes.
He said while public shelters may work in a small community where everyone is within an eight-minute walking distance, for a city Norman’s size, public shelters are not practical.
This spring, people were standing outside of the public storm shelter because there were more people than there was space inside, he said. On May 31, people across central Oklahoma panicked and left their homes rather than sheltering in place.