After the Joplin tornado, some people panicked, which created situations at some shelters.
“People actually got in a fistfight because someone had a dog in there and someone else wanted the dog out so that his kid could get in,” Fullingim said.
State regulations that Norman must follow prohibits pets in storm shelters. Firefighters who must deal with the crowds aren’t trained for that.
But more often, firefighters are sitting around in a shelter and no one shows up because the tornado doesn’t form.
Shelters must be open, so the fire department errs on the side of caution if there is a chance of a tornado.
“It probably costs about $500 in overtime costs every time we open the shelters,” Fullingim said.
Fullingim said his daughter is moving into an apartment. He has made sure she has a NOAA radio and a plan. If she has time, she will come to her dad’s house. If not, she will seek shelter at a lower level of the apartment.
“It doesn’t matter what your conditions are, you can make a plan,” he said. “You look for a central location, a windowless room.”
Council member Tom Kovach said the Whittier shelter is near a mobile home park. He wants to keep that shelter open at least another season as people are educated on what to do.
The Norman Fire Department is planning an educational campaign this spring with smoke detectors and information on tornado safety. That will be targeted at mobile home parks but could broaden to include apartments, Fullingim said.
The city council will take the situation under advisement and work with city staff to consider what to do about the city’s public shelters.