The Norman Transcript

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April 26, 2012

Recent tornado prompts new procedures

NORMAN — In the wake of Norman’s April 13 tornado, the Norman school district is re-evaluating its response protocol.

The primary focus of revisions will be communication tools and procedure.

“Any time you have an event like this, as an organization we have a responsibility to go back and examine what went well and what our challenges were,” NPS Superintendent Joe Siano said. “There are certainly lessons to be learned from this.”

Overall, Siano said he was very proud of the response exhibited by the district’s staff and administration in a difficult situation.

“I really have to compliment our staff on all levels — administrative, teachers, transportation — for their collective response to what I think everyone recognized as a very stressful situation,” Siano said. “There was neither overreaction nor underestimation on anyone’s part, and generally, in terms of procedure and practice, things worked the way we would have hoped.”

The April 13 tornado was especially problematic for middle school students, as it touched down in Norman shortly after their dismissal, catching many bus drivers off guard.

Before the tornado’s touch down, 68 buses in the process of returning students home were told to return to the nearest school site immediately, to avoid reported heavy rains and hail.

Because of the storm’s unusually high speed and sudden turn for the worse, warning time for the greatest danger was shorter than usual, with less than 10 minutes between a tornado watch being issued and tornado sirens sounding at 4 minutes after 4 p.m., which Siano said was documented by the city.

“Communication became a tremendous challenge,” Siano said, describing how cell phone and land line connections were compromised by the storm’s impact and rendered unreliable.

“We itermittently lost connection with our sites, and the buses’ radio connection was both erratic and confused, with lots of different people on at once, all trying to report their respective situations.”

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