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February 8, 2014

Storm summit comes to town

NORMAN — Experts will come from near and far for the National Tornado Summit on Monday and Tuesday at the Cox Convention Center, 1 Myriad Garden in Oklahoma City. Two Norman meteorologists will be among those making presentations.

Local meteorologists Rick Smith and Harold Brooks with NOAA will share what they learned after visiting Norman area schools. Smith and Brooks, who both have children who attend Norman Public Schools, worked with other team members to assess tornado preparedness and safety in Norman Public Schools, Little Axe and Robin Hill.

Smith is a warning coordination meteorologist. He said Brooks will look at the historical perspective of tornadoes in schools nationally and in Oklahoma.

“Tornado deaths in schools are exceptionally rare,” compared to some other risks, Smith said.

Smith said he became interested in helping Norman school officials update tornado plans because he has a child who attends Whittier Middle School. Until recently, Whittier also served as a public shelter. Now city leaders are asking that people shelter in place and make a family plan.

All previously designated public shelters in Norman have been closed and will no longer be an option. When Whittier was built, it had a berm and was considered partially underground, which people believed would make it safer during a storm and more energy efficient.

“Whittier was never engineered to be a public shelter, and the berm is gone,” Smith said.

Like many schools, the floorplan has changed over time.

“Several of the plans needed to be revisited because of updates and additions,” he said. “The Moore Emergency Manager did a similar exercise for his schools, I believe.”

The team, which included a structural engineer, analyzed school buildings for the safest and best places for children, teachers and staff to shelter during a tornado.

Smith’s area of expertise is early warning.

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