The Norman Transcript

July 13, 2013

Public Safety Committee talks storm shelters and precautions

By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Public storm shelters and hospital storm precautions were heavily discussed during the Citizens Public Safety Oversight Committee meeting on Thursday.

Shane Cohea, manager of safety services and emergency preparedness for Norman Regional Hospital led discussion and answered questions from board members about topics relating to hospital safety in the event of a storm.

Cohea said many of the safety plans or “best practices” were learned from the hospital in Joplin that took a direct hit several years ago. Placing patients in certain areas of the building prevented loss of life when the tornado ravaged the building in Joplin.

Those same practices were put in place two years prior to the May 20 tornado that hit Moore, which helped prevent the loss of life once again, he said. Maps throughout the facility also are color coded indicating the safest places for patients and staff to take cover in the event of a storm.

One problem the hospitals tend to constantly run into though is when the public tries to seek shelter inside of the facility.

Cohea said during the May 31 storm many sought shelter at Norman Regional Hospital’s Porter campus. There were people shoulder to shoulder in the hallways throughout the first floor, the lobby was completely full and there were about 30 people near the south entrance, he said.

“It was just a mess, a disaster. We have yet to find a good solution,” he said.

If a storm were to hit the area, it would likely make it more difficult for hospital staff to work with all of the people crowded into the building. Also, more people are putting themselves in more danger by going to the hospital than seeking shelter in their own homes, Cohea said.

The hospitals are not built to comply with FEMA requirements in the event of a tornado.

“At some point people are going to have to understand that’s not safe,” he said.

Chairman Eddie Sims also brought up the point that first responders are going to respond to the community first and the hospital may be waiting a little longer. Therefore, people seeking shelter in their home instead of the hospital will be reached more quickly by first responders.

Norman Fire Chief Jim Fullingim said public storm shelters were closed on June 30. Those facilities will not be opened in the event of a storm or tornado. Fullingim said he believes city council will be formally addressing the issue during their July 23 meeting and will take action to make the closure of the public shelters official.

He said they also plan to discuss what they can do as a community to be more prepared in the event of severe weather.

Many board members and Cohea reiterated that the public needs to stay in their home instead of driving around to seek shelter.

In other business, both the fire and police departments gave their monthly updates during the meeting.

The fire department recently ordered two new fire apparatus for stations No. 6 and No. 1. They also will soon be ordering another apparatus for Station No. 4, Fullingim reported.

There are four Norman Fire Department vacancies which will change to five on July 17. Fullingim said they typically have a minimum of six vacancies before they begin to look at hiring.

“We can take those vacancies a littler better than the police department,” he said.

The fire department also will begin recruiting this fall.

Norman police Lt. Jim Keesee reported there are seven cadets in the police academy, which will be graduating on July 25. The academy started off with 91 applicants but many were filtered out after interviews, background checks and the six-month academy and field training.

There will be 26 vacancies in the police department until Thanksgiving, he said. The authorized strength is 171 officers.

Keesee also updated the board on programs including the COP annual work plan, including the Annual Safety Town Program at Sooner Mall which was recently completed, citizen satisfaction surveys, which are currently in progress, and National Night Out.

Keesee said National Night Out will actually be moved to October this year instead of August because warm weather is potentially causing a low turn-out.

A financial report also was given, which mostly drew attention to the highest expenditure which was the purchase of the two fire apparatus in June. The apparatus’ cost about $942,000. Total expenditures for the fiscal year to date were $10,720,267.

Board members also established topics for the next agenda which included a tour of Fire Station No. 9. The newest fire station, located at 3001 Alameda Drive, is nearing completion, Fullingim said.

In September the board also will visit the police shooting range.