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January 16, 2013

Public shelters in city could soon be thing of the past

NORMAN — Norman residents seeking protection in the city’s public shelters may not be as safe as they think. Norman’s public storm shelters are not tornado safe, and the city may close them in the near future.

“They’re just buildings,” Norman Fire Chief James Fullingim said. “What we’re doing may provide a false sense of security.”

Fullingim and Emergency Management Director David Grizzle said every individual and family should have a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio and a severe storm plan for tornado preparedness.

Norman recommends that people shelter in place, meaning make a plan to seek shelter in a personal or friend’s tornado shelter, in your home or nearby. Fullingim advises not traveling or getting into an automobile when a tornado is imminent.

The National Weather Service tries to provide a 15-minute tornado warning to allow people to get to safety, but that isn’t always possible.

Even when the warning is possible, that may not be enough time to get in a car and drive across town to a shelter.

In cases such as the tornado that hit Norman on April 13, the advanced warning didn’t happen.

“We gave you about a three-minute negative lead time on that tornado,” Fullingim said.

The city’s warning came based on information from McClain County. The National Weather Service warning came after a tornado had hit.

“Not everyone is trained to spot a tornado, and you can’t send the whole town into panic over an anonymous phone call,” Fullingim said.

The city is discussing ways to educate the community and help people take personal responsibility for safety during severe storms.

“You need to pay attention to what is going on to be better prepared to respond,” Fullingim said.

Tornado sirens can’t be heard in many homes.

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