© 2024 KGOU
Photo of Lake Murray State Park showing Tucker Tower and the marina in the background
News and Music for Oklahoma
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Deadly tornados tore through several Oklahoma communities on May 19, 20 and 31, 2013. These are the stories of natural disaster and its aftermath, and of communities healing and recovering.

Six Ways To Prepare For Oklahoma’s Tornado Season

Joe Wertz
StateImpact Oklahoma

There’s little doubt Oklahomans will be more sensitive and more concerned than usual as the spring storm season approaches after the devastating events of May 2013. Dozens of people died as three violent tornadoes tore across Pottawatomie, Canadian and Cleveland counties within a two-week span.

Since September, KGOU has been working to prepare for severe weather in 2014 with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. On March 12, we hosted a panel discussion about tornado preparedness and storm safety at the Moore Public Library, just a few hundred yards from where the May 20 twister crossed Interstate 35.

We learned six things you need to know to prepare for the 2014 tornado season:

  1. Have a plan
  2. Have three ways to receive warnings
  3. Understand that Twitter and Facebook may not accurately reflect the situation
  4. Know the counties near where you live
  5. Understand the safest places to seek shelter and what to wear
  6. Accept that a tornado can hit you

Listen to the broadcast version.

Have a Plan

Interior rooms, low as possible and as many walls between you and the tornado as possible should be familiar phrases to anyone who has lived in Oklahoma between April and June. But National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith says the time to start preparing should come long before the skies darken.

“We started talking about the May 20 tornado ([the] potential for severe weather on that day) on May 15,” Smith says. “If I’m telling you 3-5 days from now there’s a potential for tornadoes, think about what you’re going to be doing 3-5 days from now.”

Credit SVIWorld / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons
A big-box sporting goods store in Joplin, Missouri after the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado.

During the May 22, 2011 EF5 tornado in Joplin, MO that killed more than 150, a Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s store near the center of town were two of the hardest-hit buildings.

“Going to a big-box store is probably not the best idea during a tornado watch, especially if storms are relatively close,” National Severe Storms Laboratory Senior Scientist Harold Brooks says. “They’re just not built to handle a tornado at all.”

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management operates the statewide command center when disasters happen.They coordinate emergency response and disaster recovery, but Deputy Director MichelannOoten says it’s important to remember that first responders are people too.

“One of the first things that our employees have to do though is make sure that their home, their family situation is good,” Ooten says. “I am less efficient and productivity is not as good on my part if I’m worrying about my family.”

Back To Top

Have Multiple Ways to Get Information

Every good plan benefits from having access to as much information as possible, and that starts with knowing where to find it.

Credit Brian Hardzinski / KGOU
An example of a weather alert radio.

“My kids know that if it’s a potential severe weather day, we aren’t doing things like watching a DVD on TV to where we can’t get local information at all,” Brooks says. “They are aware of being ready to get information, and being prepared for the fact that they may need to do something.”

But batteries die. Cable or satellite television service goes out. Trees fall on power lines. And tornadoes don’t care if it’s the middle of the night.

“Every single person that lives in Oklahoma needs to have more than one way, and preferably three ways [to receive severe weather information],” Smith says. “And having three apps on your phone doesn’t count.”

During a significant severe weather event, cell phone service is often interrupted or impaired as first responders try to coordinate activities, or people try to reach out to friends and family.

“A weather radio is at the top of my list for everybody,” Smith says. “You can program it for your county, and that will sound an alarm, wake you up, let you know to go see what’s going on.”

Back To Top

Approach Social Media Critically

But having access to so much information doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all good information, especially if you’re getting that information through social media. As the Oklahoma Tornado Project’s Kate Carlton reported earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter are valuable, but need to be vetted.

“Find reliable, known trusted sources of information,” Smith says. “A local television meteorologist. A local radio station. The local National Weather Service office. The local emergency manager. The Moore Emergency Management Office is on Twitter. Follow them.”

Time can be social media’s worst enemy, so always check for time stamps, especially when following radar data on your phone.

“There’s no way to see live radar data,” Smith says. “If you’re watching a TV station where they have their own radar where it’s turning and you’re seeing it, that’s about as live as you’re going to get.”

Back To Top

Know (At Least Half) Your Geography

Severe storms usually develop in southern or western Oklahoma, and track to the northeast. Luckily, a map of Oklahoma’s 77 counties has a big square right in the middle for reference, like a Free Space in BINGO.

A map of Oklahoma's 77 counties.
Credit U.S. Census Bureau / quickfacts.census.gov
A map of Oklahoma's 77 counties.

“My kids, by the time they were seven, they didn’t know any counties to the East,” Brooks says. “But Caddo, Grady County? We’re good on those counties. And know what they look like on the map.”

Brooks also said it’s important to have a solid understanding of the local terrain. Radar data that may be off by a pixel or two can make a huge difference if you live on either side of that pixel.

While the radar image may show your neighborhood is safe, a single bit of the radar image on TV or online can indicate a much larger area than many people think. If that information is off by even a small amount, it can mean a significant change for what is happening where you live.

Back To Top

Please Shelter Responsibly

An underground storm shelter is one of the safest places to ride out severe weather, but if you’re vacuuming out the cobwebs or critters left over from winter when the tornado warning is issued, you’re too late.

FEMA Public Information Officer, Nate Custer, left, and Resource Manager, Sterling Rich examine a newly installed storm shelter in Arkansas.
Credit Charles S. Powell / FEMA

Brooks says dozens of injuries actually happen after the tornado has dissipated, because people didn’t wear shoes, denim jeans, or long sleeves when they took shelter.

“They survive the tornado uninjured and then they step on a nail or something like that,” Brooks says. “Take a helmet to protect your head. [Take] your check book, so if you have to do something with money, you’ve got something.”

And Ooten says if you climb out of your shelter unharmed, but find utter devastation, your cell phone probably isn’t going to work, either from storm damage or overload of use.

“Have those systems in place that you’ve already identified how you’re going to get ahold of people,” Ooten says. “The local store within another mile of you or something like that. Know ahead of time that this is going to be our meeting place if we can possibly get there.”

Smith says most communities allow residents to register their storm shelters, so fire departments, first responders, and emergency managers will know to look for you if a tornado destroys your home.

Back To Top

Accept That It Can Happen To You

Media and public officials often use the word “resilience” to describe citizens and communities after disaster strikes. Smith says that quality comes from having thought about what to do far in advance.

Christie England, an acquisition law paralegal with the 72nd Air Base Wing, based at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., stands in her storm shelter in front of the remains of her home in Moore, Okla., May 27, 2013, a week after an EF5 tornado with winds exceed
Credit TSgt Bradley C. Church / defenseimagery.mil.
Christie England, an acquisition law paralegal with the 72nd Air Base Wing, based at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., stands in her storm shelter in front of the remains of her home in Moore, Okla., May 27, 2013, a week after an EF5 tornado with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour tore through the Oklahoma City suburb.

“Talk to your insurance agent to make sure your coverage is up to date,” Smith says. “Are your important papers ready to go? If you’re not prepared, and everything is just completely chaotic and your life is just completely destroyed with no structure, it’s going to be very hard.”

Brooks’ daughter volunteered at a Norman church on the night of May 20, and noticed a stark difference between first-time tornado victims, and residents who survived both May 3, 1999 and May 20, 2013.

“The May 3 people all came in and asked for plastic bags so they could go take care of whatever belongings they still had that weren’t ruined,” Brooks says. “That was one of those things that people had learned and responded differently when they went through the second event.”

Back To Top

Harold Brooks, Rick Smith and Michelann Ooten speak about storm safety at The Oklahoma Tornado Project's March 12, 2014 forum.
Credit Kate Carlton
Harold Brooks, Rick Smith and Michelann Ooten speak about storm safety at The Oklahoma Tornado Project's March 12, 2014 forum.

Ahead of the Storm: The Oklahoma Tornado Project stories are produced by KGOU News, with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Reports may be used in any media with appropriate credit given to KGOU and CPB. For details, refer to our Terms of Use. To contribute to our efforts, make your donation online, or contact our Membership department.


KURT GWARTNEY, MODERATOR: Good evening and welcome to this panel discussion on storm safety preparedness presented as part of KGOU's Ahead of the Storm - The Oklahoma Tornado Project. Funding for this project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I'm KGOU News Director Kurt Gwartney and with me are MichelannOoten, deputy director with the state Office of Emergency Management. Rick Smith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Norman Forecast Office of the National Weather Service. And Harold Brooks, senior scientist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Welcome to each of you. Thank you for being here. Our topic this evening is all about being ready. Knowing where to go, what to do and how to prepare for our upcoming spring storm season. And to provide some structure to our discussion I'm going to first ask our experts about how Oklahomans, how we as residents here, should prepare based on where we are and then also how that might be a little different depending on where we are? And we'll just start off Michelann with you. So, I'm at work. I work in an office building; let's say in downtown Oklahoma City. What do I need to do, how do I need to think about that environment being prepared for a possible severe storm or tornado in my area?

MICHELANN OOTEN: Well I think you hit it on the nose, you may not be home whenever severe weather occurs, so you need to have a plan for where you're going to be safe, how you're going to shelter in place, or any other actions you need to take depending on whether you're at work, at church, at a community gathering, whatever the case may be you need to be mindful of that, and you need to have a plan. The most important thing is to have a plan before the storm hits. We find it's a little difficult, there's anxiety and other things that set in. If you don't plan ahead of time, it's much more difficult to plan when the tornado or the severe weather is on the way. 

GWARTNEY: And how would that office environment work, would there be specific recommendations you might make for someone who works in a downtown office high rise building?

OOTEN: Well certainly in a high-rise building, the first thing that comes to my mind is glass. And you'd want to be away from that. And you'd want to be at the lowest level you could get to. And the center most place in that structure. 

GWARTNEY: And those are words most Oklahomans are familiar with. 

OOTEN: We've grown up hearing it, exactly. 

GWARTNEY: Rick, what about a place like school or church, those are very large, kind of open buildings with a lot of people. Any recommendations for how we might think, and those of us who have kids in school, how as parents we might think about getting ready if we have children in those locations?

RICK SMITH: Well, all three of us are probably going to sound like a broken record ‘cause we're all going to say get as low as you can, put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible. That will take care of you everywhere. I mean that's the basic overarching tornado safety guidelines no matter where you are. Follow up real quickly on something, on Michelann's question, one of the things if I worked in a high-rise building in downtown Oklahoma City, a key part of being ready for storm is paying attention to the weather. And if it's five o'clock and it's time for you to leave that high-rise building in downtown Oklahoma City, don't get in your car and drive if there's storms between you and your house. So that's a basic thing, we may talk about cars later. Schools, churches, we think any place where people gather need to obviously have an organized severe weather safety plan that includes multiple ways to get a warning, that includes places to seek shelter, and in Oklahoma it's not enough to just plan to shelter the people that are actually there, sometimes you have to shelter hundreds of people that show up to take shelter in one of those places. So certainly schools, churches, any public gathering facility should have a plan of action. Identify the locations that offer the best protection that they have available from the tornado with the theory again being getting as far inside the building as you can, putting as many walls or barriers between you and the outside as you can. And being as low as possible. 

GWARTNEY: Harold, so I'm shopping at the big box store, looking for an electrical outlet that I need to put in, and the tornado comes. There aren't any walls, the center is nothing under a huge span, and I know that this situation kind of occurred in Joplin. So what do I do if I'm caught out shopping in this situation? 

HAROLD BROOKS: Well I think one of the most important thing is that you need to be aware of the threat of the possibility of severe weather before you go shopping. Going to a big box store is probably not the best idea during a tornado watch especially if storms are relatively close, because they're just not built to handle a tornado at all. And we did see that, a big problem in Joplin. And so being aware and knowing whether you should postpone that trip, do you really need the electrical outlet before the tornado or not? And then making an intelligent decision to not be in a bad place. And a lot of that is really the heart of any plan is making sure that you're in as good of a place as you can be when the event occurs. 

GWARTNEY: And I'm sure we're going to be hearing the word "plan" a lot, and that's my next question and Rick we're going to start with you. There have been several situations where the National Weather Service will issue statements several days out before an event that they predict we might see tornadoes that are significant risk for tornadoes. So let's say, 3-5 days out, this information is coming from your office. How should I take that information in and then how should I be looking at my plan once I know that is risk is increased in the days ahead? 

BROOKS: That's a great question, and in most, well all of the large tornadoes that we've had over the past several years, that exact scenario has happened. We've been talking about those events for days. We started talking about the May 20th tornado potential for severe weather on that day on May 15th. That far out, it's just an outlook and we obviously cannot pinpoint where exactly the tornadoes or severe weather are going to happen, or even if it's guaranteed to happen. But the Norman Forecast Office of the National Weather Service is pretty conservative, and if you hear us talking about it 5 days out you should probably pay very close attention to it. What I would be doing that far out is, first of all, realizing that it's not exact, realizing that it's just providing you a heads up. So if I'm telling you 3-5 days from now there's a potential for tornadoes, think about what you're going to be doing 3-5 days from now. Do you have a trip to go to your daughter's soccer tournament in Tulsa? Well, you need to start thinking about that. Is that where you're going to be at church at 6 o'clock on a Sunday evening? Are you going to be driving home from work? That's the time in that, looking out into the long range future, to start thinking about that. Do you have a weather radio, do you have three ways to get a warning? What does your kit look like? Do you need to vacuum out the spider webs out of your storm shelter, that kind of thing. I mean those are the kinds of things that those outlooks are good for. That's not the time to pack up the car and go on vacation, well maybe it is. But if you're going to do it that's probably the time to do it. But that's the time to just start thinking in your head, okay, it's April or May or June here in Oklahoma, here we go. Am I ready for it? If it happens what am I going to do? 

GWARTNEY:Michelann, your job is deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management. My guess is when you hear that information from the Norman Forecast Office, or from the Tulsa office because you do cover the entire state, that you have things to get ready for. Tell me just a little but, give me a little bit insight into how the office of emergency management prepares for one of these possibly significant tornado events. 

OOTEN: Well absolutely. One of the first things actually is, we're so blessed by the great forecasting ability and the technology's that available through our partners here that are so locally stationed and that helps us out a great deal. And Rick's absolutely right, whenever Rick and the other partners there at the National Weather Service, and the severe weather lab come forward and say, "This is going to be a serious situation" we do heed that. One of the first things that our employees have to do though is make sure that their home, their family situation is good. And we preach that they need to have a plan for their loved ones at home as well. I am less efficient and productivity is not as good on my part if I'm worrying about my family. So that's one of the first things and that could apply to a lot of the first responders as well as others out there that would assist any kind of disaster. But from the emergency operations center at the state capitol in Oklahoma City, we work there getting ready for what may be coming our way. And the first people we reach out to, in addition to National Weather Service, is our local emergency managers. They're the boots on the ground, they're our "number one customer" if you will. Because they are the ones who are going to have the eyes and ears right there to be able to tell us what's going on and be able to get a hold of us if they need any assistance. So we reach out to them and make sure basic things like contact information is up to date. Do they know anything? Is there a special needs population in their community that they are concerned about? Those kind of things, and we just have those conversations. We have a number of conference calls and all that occurs. But again I want to stress it's not just what's happening at your business but, what's happening at your home. 

GWARTNEY: Harold, how has your family prepared for storms?

BROOKS: Well, it's one of those things that being someone who in theory knows more than the average person about what's going on, we have a whole series of different kinds of plans. If I'm at home, things are different than if I'm not at home, because my wife and my kids know there are certain things to do. For instance, my kids know that if it's a potential severe weather day, we aren't doing things like, watching a DVD on TV to where we can't get local information at all. They are aware of being ready to get information, and being prepared for the fact that they may need to do something. My daughter spent the last three and a half years in Stillwater and so just trying to make sure that she's aware, and that when she was in the sorority house, making sure that there was a plane for the house so that she could be sort of a leader in that role. And so we have an in-resident shelter, it's the walk-in closet of our bedroom, and so the kids know what they need to do if they need to get into that and get the dogs in there. My wife's a school teacher, and so obviously she's got responsibilities at school that she has to make sure that she's ready for. But we probably, my wife and children are quicker to go to shelter than I am. In some sense that's because I can go look at the radar and I can go, "It's going to miss us by a couple of miles, we're going to be okay here." Or I'll wait to go in at the last minute until it's like it's a really serious situation. Whereas they know essentially if the warning comes out for Cleveland County or if the sirens go off that they're going in. And they aren't even going to try and make an interpretation on their own. 

GWARTNEY: The idea of warnings, and Rick you actually mentioned we need to have multiple ways to receive warnings came up. And of course one of those is the NOAA weather radio which, I know in our family, that sits on the bedside, and we wait for that Wednesday noon and Wednesday evening test to make sure it's working, especially as Spring arrives. But not everybody has one of those, and people depend on a lot of different ways to get their information. So Rick I want you to start off by telling us just a little bit about, kind of give me the list of what you would put as priorities in terms of receiving that information. What are kind of your primary sources, maybe secondary sources, and then we'll go from there. 

SMITH: We really encourage people to have multiple ways, and when we work with our emergency management partners certainly they have multiple ways to get a warning, and every single person that lives in Oklahoma needs to have more than one way, and preferably three ways. And having three apps on your phone doesn't count as three ways, by the way. 

GWARTNEY: So that would be one way, I mean you're basically saying the phone is one way. 

SMITH: The phone is one way, but as anybody that's lived through a significant severe weather event in the Oklahoma City metro area, one of the first things to go when we have a tornado in the area is the cell phone service. So you may very well get that warning on your app, but it could be 45 minutes later, it just depends. That's depended on the cell phone service. Television is the number one way people have to get weather information. When we do surveys and talk to people, you get it all there. You get the pictures, you get the words, you get descriptions, video, helicopter you get, there's nowhere else like it in the world than the weather information we get here on television. We're fortunate to have those partners who help us get the word out about what's going on. But that's not going to work if your power's out or you lose your cable, or your DirecTV or DISH Network, or it's 2:30 in the morning when it happens. So you can't rely on just that, so weather radio is at the top of my list for everybody. For $30 you can get a radio that has a battery in it that you can program for your county, and that will sound an alarm and it will wake you up, we have one in our bedroom too, and it will wake you up and let you know, go turn on KGOU, go turn on your favorite TV station, and see what's going on. So, weather radio's at the top of the list. One of the things that is on most people's list but that, in my opinion should not be as high as it is, is outdoor warning sirens. Outdoor warning sirens are a valuable tool and lots of people heard those during the May tornadoes and it saved lives probably because people took it seriously. The problem is that people rely on those too much and people wait to hear that siren, and in the absence of the siren they think the tornadoes not going to happen. Some people, it's like the siren is the signal that opens the gates to the city, that lets the tornado come in, and it can't happen until the sirens sound. And we just don't want people to rely solely on that, or wait for that. Some people will literally sit on the couch and wait. "Yeah I knew there was a warning, yeah I knew it was dark outside, and my power went out, I saw debris falling, but I never heard the siren so I didn't take shelter." And that's scary. So that can't be your only way. So really, just have multiple ways. An app is a good thing to have, but don't depend on it. Weather radio, TV, sirens, subscription services. Communities offer push notifications or they'll send you messages. There's really no excuse anymore to say it struck without warning. 

GWARTNEY: And, the office of emergency management actually has a way to receive warning through the phone, is that not right Michelann?

OOTEN: Well absolutely. We have a system that you can set up. Go to our website and you can subscribe to get those warnings as well and basically we're getting the National Weather Service information directly to you. Like Rick, the partners in the media are extremely important, and I know there are multiple apps out there that you can sign up for as well. And I don't think you can sign up for too many is what it comes down to. But again, like he said, anything on your cell phone that's one. We preach that, and we really believe that. The multiple ways of getting that information is extremely important and we've seen it save lives. 

GWARTNEY: Harold, in terms of some of the newer ways people get information, for example social media, Twitter, that kind of thing, I noticed in particular during the Canadian County/El Reno event last year that there were Twitter messages being shared that seemed like it was like current information but in fact when you would go back and look you would discover it was actually quite old. Has there been any investigation or looking into how social media informs the way we approach storms?

BROOKS: Last week, or was it even earlier this week? Last week I guess. The weather service office actually did an experiment in which they put out a message on Twitter and asked people to retweet it just to see how things moved. And when people noticed, and I'll admit I wasn't someone who notice in the first few minutes because I was at dinner and wasn't thinking about the fact that I know we're about to have this experiment that I should be participating in, but that there were a lot of people who didn't get the message for 15-20 minutes after it had happened. And then they put it out and if you look at it, unless you see an "@5:37 PM" this was occurring, you actually don't know what event that tweet is referring to and the same thing with Facebook. That's a real challenge. We're going to do some work this summer with a summer student who's actually going to try to look at essentially the propagation of both good and bad messages. And how long messages go out. For instance, I have a lot of friends, Rick's children have gone to the school my wife teaches at, and so all the teachers at Whittier [Middle Schoo] follow Rick on Twitter. And when he puts something out, that message gets out to them in a very rapid way. What we'd like to know, compared to, say, Rick putting something out or my next door neighbor who knows, as far as I know, nothing at all about weather, putting out a tweet about weather. To some people, those two messages look the same. And so how can we look at how good messages go and things that have specific time and space location and the latency effect of what's going on. Cause I know that on May 20th you could still see messages at 5 o'clock about the tornado that was entering Moore. If you were using that, you would be very badly informed. 

GWARTNEY: And I know that even applies, Rick, in terms of pictures. I've noticed too that pictures will get sent out of something and then often someone from your office will go, "That was from, three years ago. That's not a real event." So how do we, in this day and age whenever, I think most of the time whenever somebody I know tells me something, I'm going to take it a little more seriously and personally and directly, than if I get it from the office of emergency management or even the national weather service in Norman. How should a person approach information when there's so much happening and they want to know, and they're hungry for that, how do you filter that? How do you be prepared to really focus on the information you really need to know? 

SMITH: That's a great question and there is, if you had asked me 10 years ago is it possible to have too much weather information, I would've said “No way.” I think it is now because there are so many sources of weather information, some of them official some of them reliable. Honestly, there are some very slick looking Facebook pages out there that have very shiny, official looking graphics that are run by a 12-year old kid on his mom and dad's laptop, who has no background in meteorology and has no clue what he's even talking about. And people, they may have tens of thousands of followers following that, it's very hard for people to distinguish when someone posts a weather graphic or a picture or radar image that looks very official. "Well it looks good to me" so they share it and that propagates. What I'm telling people this year is just find reliable, known trusted sources of information. A local television meteorologist, a local radio station, the local National Weather Service office, local emergency manager, the Moore emergency management offices on Twitter, follow them. Just, don't randomly and blindly share things and retweet things and Like things where you don't know the source, because it can look really legit, it can look really official and really like it's current information, and not be. And going back to Harold's, the question you asked Harold a minute ago, one of the things we're doing to combat some of that is, in time sensitive information we're trying to put a timestamp on it. So if it's the Moore tornado I think most of the tweets we did during the tornado said "3:01 p.m., Tornado Eemergency" so that reduces the likelihood of it getting, I mean I've seen tornado tweets 2 days after the event still being retweeted, and pictures, and it's very confusing. 

GWARTNEY:Michelann, any work in your area on developing and using strengthening maybe the use of social media even though we obviously are running into some difficulties and getting timely, accurate information in that way?

OOTEN: Well I think Rick hit on it, it's about we're back to planning and researching and knowing which one of those sites or which page you're going to follow, and all these different organizations that are out there, thinking you have to do that research ahead of time and know which groups, which entities, you're going to rely on to keep you and your family, your business, and other places safe. 

GWARTNEY: Harold, I want to go back to the El Reno event and ask you this question. One of our neighbors where we live who was sheltering with us, had her iPad and was looking at a tornado picture, an image from a website, and as far as I know she has absolutely no experience or knowledge in how to use that. What are some of the, and I know there are a lot of people who have these apps and they will look at the radar signatures to kind of decide when they need to take shelter, and when to be safe or not. What are some of the risks and the problems with doing that?

BROOKS: Well I'll say this, even as someone who has a Ph.D. in atmospheric sciences, there are times when radar interpretation is not easy. Especially if I haven't been sitting there watching the radar evolution for the whole afternoon. If, and it doesn't happen very often with the fact that I have a real job, that even if I just occasionally glance over I don't get the full picture of what's going on. If I just get a single snapshot look at the radar, I can be very confused as to what's going on. And that's I think one of the things that I value from the forecast office is the fact that I've been in forecast offices during outbreaks and I know what they're doing. And so I know the level of attention they're putting to the events, and so their interpretation tends to be really solid, and they tend to be. Rick said something I think very important earlier, that the Norman Forecast Office is a relatively conservative office in terms of warnings, and in terms of procedures. That doesn't mean they're going to let events go by, but they aren't going to, they don't hype minor events. And I think that's a really important thing that if they say something's happening, with severe thunderstorms, you've got a real good chance that that's what's actually going on. Because they're experienced, they've got good procedures, and the office interacts very well with each other, this is, if it isn't the best office for tornado and severe thunderstorms warnings I don't know what is. And I think that's an important thing is that they, it takes a lot to learn how to read radar. And especially as new products become available and the radar's change, and you can see different radar displays of the same storm and just different, even from the same radar and they've been processed differently, and they look different. And the map background may be different, and you really need to know sometimes exactly where something is to a pretty fine degree and I think that's one of the things that. I mean I'll look at radar and I can pick out the hook echo and all that but there are more complicated situations sometimes in which. I pay attention to what these guys do so I know when they say something I know what that means. 

GWARTNEY: And sometimes that radar information, depending on the app where you're getting it, actually can also be old isn't that right? 

BROOKS: It can be horribly old sometimes and you don't, and you may not know, you better make sure that the app has a timestamp on the radar image, so you can realize, "Oh, I haven't gotten a new image for 25 minutes, I'll bet that storm's a whole lot closer to me that it looks like on."

SMITH: The radar data is always old, there's no way to see live radar data. If you're watching a TV station where they have their local, their own radar where it's turning and you're seeing it, that's about as live as you're going to get. You're not going to get live radar on an app or on a computer. It doesn't matter what app you use or how much you pay for it, it's old. And it's sometimes, several minutes old. And like Harold said there's been instances where people didn't see a timestamp or didn't know that their app had stopped updating, and looking at something that's, you know 15 or 20 minutes old and that can be a big problem. 

GWARTNEY: Harold kind of referred to this and Rick I'm going to stick with you and ask this question, and I know growing up being a native Oklahoman, tornado warnings used to involve counties, and then it kind of became county and now we're down to closer to an area. But still I think it's that familiarity that we have growing up in this state and, you know I've been affected by tornadoes, it's been fairly indirectly just personally. How do you express the information and the urgency of a situation that's life threatening to people who might shrug their shoulders because, "Yeah, I've heard them say that before."

SMITH: Well that's the challenge, and like we've talked about a couple of times. We try to we don't talk like we talked on May 19th and May 20th and May 31st all the time. We only do it when we really are confident that it’s really going to happen. So it really means something. We don't say the sky is falling every single time there is a risk of thunder storms or that there's even a risk of tornadoes. There are tornadoes and there are tornadoes, and we try to reserve that strongest language and what we do. There are things that we do for the public and there are things that we do for our partners. Michelann mentioned earlier the conferences calls and the webinars that we do. We have such a strong relationship with our partners and public safety, fire, police especially emergence management that it’s almost like they can hear by the tone of our voice or the words that we say or how we word something on a Facebook post or a tweet if we really mean it this time or not. That's hard to bottle and get everybody to do. For the public we try and reserve that wording, we try to be as specific with the timing. The past several events we've been able to nail down pretty well several hours in advance even before the watch comes out. You know those two county wide areas, this three hour time span has the highest risk. So the more specific we are the more conservative we are with using the really scary language. Hopefully that gives people confidence. Now we know people are not going to go just based on what we say though. We know that people are going to look through the TV station and go on the Internet and see if their friends are excited about it on Facebook and Twitter, and we know that happens. Our role I think here is to be real the science based just the fact and just telling people what’s going to happen. If we are worried about it, we want people to understand how worried we are about it.

BROOKS: And one thing that can help with that, we talked earlier about preparation. It’s really important to know what county you live in and what county you are close too. Like my kids by the time they were seven, they didn't know any counties to the east. I'm mean Lincoln and Pottawatomie are forever away. But Caddo, Grady County we're good on those counties. And know what they look like on the map. We're actually really fortunate around here you know there's that big square thing in the middle and the two triangular things just below it. I was in Columbus, Ohio several years ago in a tornado warning, and I realized all the counties are just these weird shaped things. I had no clue on their little map up in the corner where I was, and so I'm going, "Hey somebodies getting hit really hard pretty soon and I hope it’s not me. ‘Cause I don't know where I am on this map." And the satellite went out and I couldn't see the TV anymore. So everything was okay, I couldn't see it anymore. But that's one of the things and there are things like we've done some surveys work with people what they understand about their placed-base understanding of where they are and find things like the phrase “I-35 corridor.” There were people who go, "Am I in the I-35 corridor?" Um well that's an interesting questions. What's a corridor? How wide is it? Is the corridor just the four lanes on the road or six lanes or is it miles on either side? And that was one of those things we think certainly from the professional side were trying to figure out. But how do we say things as unambiguously as possible given that people, we think... “I know were the I-35 corridor is, heck yeah.” But that I don't know if we can actually communicate that and the people will understand it in the same way. But know what county you are in and the counties near you.

GWARTNEY: Know your counties, sounds like a good geography quiz for our elementary students. Michelann, so the storm has come. It hit my neighborhood. I emerge from my closest, and while I seem to be okay I look around and it's just destruction. What are some of the first things I should do? Kind of give us a check list as an emergency management leader as to what you hope that people would do when they first emerge in that horrible sight.

OOTEN: Well I think, the first thing you would do naturally is check on yourself. Are you okay? Take inventory of physical situation and any loved ones you had with you whenever you went into that sterility closet hopefully. The second thing you would have done before you went into that closet and that is in my case if a tornado is coming toward my home before I get into my storm shelter I'm going to let somebody I'm getting in there. So that after the storm comes through if I'm not calling them back or texting them back or something, somebody needs to come looking for me cause they know where I am at. I think that is one of the most important things to do and it gives people some sense of relief when they do go into those safe spots if you will. And the next thing is, I think is just natural thing especially here in Oklahoma, you will see people trying to check on their neighbors. But just be very careful of that because there maybe electric lines down, there may be a whole host of hazards out there to great you. The very good news that very soon you should see first responders and possibly the media even before the first responders sometimes. We understand that but they're part of our partners as well and as far as the first responders just do what they say please. If they say this area is not safe and we need you to move out, please do that because they're doing it for your own safety. And then gradually more and more information will come through, you'll start to get more of you bearings. But it is a lengthy process and we understand that.

BROOKS: And when you go into shelter, you've got to do simple things like make sure you have shoes.

OOTEN: Exactly.

BROOKS: The number of injuries that happen after the tornado cause people come out and they survive the tornado uninjured and then they step on a nail or something like that. Make sure you're... and those little things like that people don't necessary think about especially if it's late in the evening and you're getting ready for bed and you don't think about putting on shoes or taking the helmet to protect your head, your check book so that if you have to do something with money you've got something. 

GWARTNEY:Michelann, after those situations I know those first responders are obviously looking for victims, people who that immediate assistants and help. Is there something I can do ahead of time to help that process along? Is there any way to let those people know where I might be and what is going on?            

OOTEN: Well, absolutely and after this storm has come through and you've survived it. There's going to be systems set up, they’re going to be announced, there's going to be websites you can go too to let your friends and families know where you are at. I believe the Red Cross has one that we always turn too. And there may be local phone numbers setup and all that again so you can let your loved ones know where you are at because has already be mentioned here tonight is that phone system goes down quite often and sometimes it's not because of the damage from the storm it's sometimes because of the overload of use. So again we're back to in your planning have those systems in place that you've already identified how you're going to get a hold of people. Maybe you tell your loved ones and your friends our safe place is going to be the local store within another mile of you or something like that. But you can all know ahead of time that this is going to be our meeting place if we can possibly get there. So we can make sure our loved ones are okay.

GWARTNEY: We're going to open up the floor to questions in just a few moments, so if you have those be thinking of them. We'll have microphones come around and we'll have that here in just a moment. So Rick and Harold both think really for you two. Based on what we are seeing in the latest research, what are some of the things I can do that can make difference to my survivability long turn other than moving somewhere? But are there things that I can do with my property, where I live and how I just operate day to day that are going to increase my possibility survivability if the worst happens? and Rick why don't you start.

SMITH: Well I think we've already touched on some of it. If you live here in Oklahoma in the spring time and there's a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast you need to be paying attention extra attention. You need to be not changing your daily life every time there is risk of severe weather but be mindful when there is that risk have multiple ways to get a warning. Things like that make a huge difference because the warnings are getting better and for the big tornadoes you may have 10, 15, 20, 30, 40 minutes of warning in some cases. But that does no good if you can't get it. So those sources information, paying attention to the weather, being plugged in to multiple information sources. Another thing that you can do that, kind of ties back into Michelann's question a minute ago, is a lot of communities have a storm shelter registration program. Where you can actually register with the fire department or emergency management office and say, “Hey, I have a storm shelter here don't forget to come look for me if something happens.” And a lot of communities have that in the area. So take advantage of that. Have a kit, have a plan, practice that plan, think about it on a nice quite sunny early March day when it's 55 degrees and there’s no storms out in Western Oklahoma. The more you do that, the more you that you think days or weeks in advance. Ever little bit that you do days or weeks in advance is going to take off a huge amount stress and a huge amount of tension when it comes to actually happening. When that warning comes out your reaction should be automatic and it should be instant. Okay we've practiced, I know what to do, here's my shoes, we've got our jeans on, we got or long sleeve shirts on, there are my car keys, wallet, cell phones charged, I know where I'm going and I'm going there. That doesn't work, you can't start doing that when the tornado warning issued. You have to do that today. Those are the kind of things I think of when I think of tangible things that all of us can do that will make a difference when it happens. 

GWARTNEY: Harold, I've had some... been seeing some things pop up about garage doors that I want to ask about, that garage doors often fail and cause problems for houses. Are there anything’s in terms of the way we actually where we live and what we build in terms of single family homes that might help us survive?

BROOKS: Sure, well and a lot of this depends upon whether you are doing new construction or not. I mean obviously if you're retro-fitting anything is much more expensive than new construction. When my wife and I when we did an addition onto our house we did essentially everything we possibly could. You want to make sure you've got a continuous load path through your house. You want to make sure that the cell plate is attached to the foundation. You've got nuts, you've got bolts with nuts on them and you want to put the nuts onto the bolts they don't always do that. Strap those down that holds the walls down to the floors and but what are called hurricane clips onto attaching the roof to the walls. Those kinds of things on a $100,000 house add $500-1,000 to the coast and they dramatically increase the load that it takes to tear your house apart by basically factor of 30 or 40. You've really add a lot to what does and building an in-residence shelter when you do that and think about all the things about in terms of your space you actually have in your home. Whether that's an underground, or in my wife and I's case, my wife has had back and knee problems, and we realized that there may come a time in life when three or four steps is, she can't do it. So ours is actually is our walk-in closet off of our bedroom and those is it's built to the FEMA standards. If my shelter goes all of Central Oklahoma's gone cause I mean it's going to survive anything. The guy that poured the concrete asked if he could come over to our house. We weren't sure about that. But that was its kind of thing, and the plans are easily available online an if you want to costume build it you take your plans to your architect and your builder and they're very simple for them to follow. And so those kind of things, making sure your house has that continuous load path. Garage doors tend to be big point of failure because they if you think your garage door isn't... your try not to have it anchored down to the ground all the time like the walls of your house. It's supposed to go up and down and so it tends to not do as well and once that is breached than basically the garage is gone. So you can do some things for your construction that can really dramatically increase your chances and just know and if you can do new construction... you're not doing new construction go back to those basic rules. Putting as many walls between you as possible and the tornado in a small interior room. We lived in the house I'm in for 14 years before we put in the in-residence shelter. We had a very small interior hallway everybody in the family knew that's where we went and we used it a few times and I was pretty comfortable. If you do those things, if you do the right things even moderate construction, a moderately constructed house your chances of survive are very high.

GWARTNEY: Okay we are going to open it up to questions now, and I have one final questions for the panel when we wrap up here. So just raise your hand and the microphone will be brought your way by Jim Johnson our program director at KGOU and Brian Hardzinski our operations manager. So let’s go ahead front row there.

JUSTIN WRIGHT: Justin Wright, my questions actually for Harold and Rick for both of y'all. As we know that products have evolved over the years and we also included aviation as well as public information. What steps and progress is being done to try and isolate the aviation format from the public, so we can allow more public specific information? I understand the headings that some with product issuance. But is there anything being done to make it more specific to the public?

GWARTNEY: And let me kind of translate that I think a little bit first. By products basically what that means is that it’s the information sent out by the National Weather Service the Norman Forecast Office in different formats and different audiences.

SMITH: Right and the Weather Service is trying to add more value or more impact information to all of our texts information that we send out. We traditionally call products things like the watches and the warnings. Watches for example, tornado watches severe thunderstorm watches last year got new wording in them. So now instead of just saying tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds may happen. It will say things like several tornadoes with a few intense tornadoes possible or large hail three inches in diameter or larger. Our warnings most of the tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings in the state of Oklahoma are changing later this month. To include more impacts in those messages. So we are working to get into the 20th and 21st century hopeful with our products. Honestly our warnings haven't changed and our watches haven't changed substantially since the 60s and 70s. They just don't look a lot different and we know a lot more information. Our challenge right now is learning how to speak English and learning how to talk in a way that people get it where they understand it and they do something about it. We can, Harold and I can spout off words all day long but if it doesn't get someone up off the couch it doesn't matter. So I think we are working in that direction, we have a long way to go though.

GWARTNEY: Okay another question?

SHERRY KING: Hi, Sherry King, I was curious you had mentioned about your in-house shelter. So you believe that those are going to be safe? I mean it just seems like the tornadoes have become more ferocious and stronger. So you think that for the future that those are going to be a safe place?

BROOKS: Sure, we don't actually have any evidence when we look at tornadoes that they have increased in intensity at all the records really don't show that. There was an extensive study done after Moore and Joplin and Tuscaloosa was the third one that the Texas Tech people, who lead the way in developing the guidelines, basically they surveyed every storm shelter that was hit in Moore. They walked the entire path, they hit every shelter and none of the shelters that were built to standards had any problems at all. I mean there were some pop marks in the concrete on sides were missiles had hit the outside but that's okay. The whole house was gone and this wonderful shelter was sitting there and they found the same things in Joplin and Tuscaloosa. There was actually, I didn't know this until a few weeks ago there was an apartment complex just east of the Wal-Mart and the Lowe’s or was it Home Depot? It was Home Depot in Joplin, in which both were destroyed lots of fatalities there and this apartment complex had built well above code and there was a bunch of people in that apartment complex and there were all perfectly fine.

SMITH: So nothing has changed at all. The information that we are conveying tonight is the same exact information. In fact GaylandKitch, the emergency manager for Moore, and I were in this very room little bit over a year ago giving a tornado preparedness presentation and the information we shared that night is exactly the same as what we are sharing tonight. Nothing has changed we don't believe that tornadoes are necessary more intense or worse, safe rooms are just as safe today as they were last year. I've got an in-ground shelter in my garage, if I had a choice I would have an above ground safe room because it just ease of use and everything. I trust them 100 percent.

GWARTNEY:Michelann, I want you to weigh in on is too. As an emergency manager for the state of Oklahoma what do you see as in terms of shelters and how people are using them and their safety?

OOTEN: Well I would have to echo some things that have already said, and that is again we did come back and look at the places would did have the shelters before the tornadoes hit last May and there were none one them that didn't do their job if you will. Will also saw in the people who didn't have shelters and in a number of cases they survived again being in that lowest center most way from windows place. But the cases that people didn't survive or badly injured those are the ones that always stand out. We need to remember again like their sayings the tornadoes have not gotten more mean, more evil. I think it just comes back a little bit to the fact that we are just so overloaded with information these days and have to again back to the planning piece and know how to sift that out and know what we can trust and what we need to question. So that again we can apply that to our planning process and keep our families as safe as possible. 

BROOKS: It's important to remember that even in the most intense tornadoes the area that's actually got the highest intensity is still relatively small. It's only a small part of EF5 tornado is actually EF5 or EF4 damage and from the Moore tornado last year there has been some work done that was around 98 and half 99% of the people who were in structures that were EF4/EF5 survived. That's important to remember, we get messages occasionally if you don't have a special built shelter or you can't get underground you’re not going to survive. And that’s just simple not true. Now if you got a shelter or you can get underground bully for you your chances are way up, but that doesn't mean that if you don't have those shelters and you go "There's nothing I can do" or "I better just." I knew of a young lady last year, who called her mother she was getting ready to run from her house because her car wasn't working. And so she was ready to run away from her house because she couldn't get underground. Now fortunately she's called her mother and those of you who are mothers in the room will know what the mother told her to do. And she went back in the house and was fine. I grantee it's not a fun place to be when the tornado hits the house but your chances of survival are actually good if you just do the simple safety advise. If you get caught out in traffic things start to get a little squirrelly right there and there were a lot of people on May 31st who never where near a tornado. The number of traffic accidents that occurred and just all of that that went on that day was just really large. And high blood pressure and stress. And people who drowned because they tried to get in to drainage ditches for shelter.

SMITH: Kurt I think Harold brought up an interesting point, and when we talk about the May 20th tornado being an F5 tornado. We did an extensive almost door to door damage survey of that tornado. We surveyed over 4,200 individual structures; nine of those had EF5 damage. 9 out of 4,200 and something, and the area of the EF5 damage was essentially about a house wide or a lot wide. The whole thing is not an EF5 tornado and you are going to be fine where you are. Shelter in place is still the message.

GWARTNEY: Another question?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're businesses and other institutions. Do you have an idea how many days during the real severe storm season we have tornado watches in Central Oklahoma or where we can get that information? Cause for people who are maybe working on plans to either get people to shelter or shelter in place. It might be kind of nice to know how much down time are we going to have if we do that kind of thing.

SMITH: I knew I should have studied for this because we just work with the storm perdition center to produce some maps of the average number of tornado watches moderate risk, high risk, slight risk. I think for tornado watches for the central Oklahoma area it's ten or less. So if that's a gauge of any. Per year, per year average per year. And again I maybe a little of on my numbers but I think that's the ballpark. So we're not, I mean it feels like and I know it's going to feel like it this spring that it feels like we are being bombarded by storms and there is a risk for severe weather every single day and they're interrupting TV and the weather service is talking. But when look at it even here in Oklahoma the number of days where you really need to pay attention and the number of minutes when you really need to take shelter is tiny, and if you just do it and on average for central Oklahoma you're in one to two tornado warnings a year on average sometimes. Last year Cleveland County had 13 tornado warnings that was an odd year. If you take shelter every time there is a tornado warning that's what an hour and half, two hours tops out of your life. It’s worth it.

GWARTNEY: Other questions?

DAVID RYMER: Yeah, hi, David Rymer. Obviously last May 31st we saw a mass exodus out of the Oklahoma City metro area much against safety advice and obviously I don't need to go into what happened you both were watching I know. Is there any plans on emphasizing this season not to do that or are there any changes in terms of I guess your language on why it’s important to stay inside your structure and not to attempt to evacuate ahead of a thunder storm or a tornado?

BROOKS: Good, good question and of course you are referring to the panic that occurred on May 31st and everything. I would see this coming season is going to be over sensitive no matter what the interest and the anxiety that is all going to come because of the next storm season is going to be concerning to everyone. I anticipate we'll all be out there with the same message we've always had, which is that you need to have that plan where you’re going to be safe no matter place or at whenever the warning is handed down. And of course you decide that when the watch is issued or when two or three days ahead of a very concerning day at national service and other partners are out there saying you need to take heed to this information. As far as keeping from getting into their cars and trying to outrun a tornado, it's a very difficult thing change those behaviors sometimes, but will be out there preaching the same thing we’ve said all along. Again you know personally how the situation that is upon you, but again we all react better we all make better choices if we planned ahead. And I think most times and think they'd agree with me, you are always going to be most always going to be in safer situation if you are in a building rather than in a vehicle.

SMITH: And from a weather service perspective our message hasn't change at all. At one o' clock in the afternoon on May 31st we told people don't be on the roads after four o'clock. We told people if you don't feel safe where you are drive now, if you wait till the warning is issued it too late. That's the same message as last year as it is this year. It's a horrible place to be in a car. I was stuck in traffic, I had another talk I did earlier today, and was stuck in traffic trying to get home and I was stressed I was late. I cannot imagine the feeling of being stuck in traffic with huge tornadic super cell with softball size hail and flooding rains and who knows what else in there bearing down on you. It's just, we need to transfer some of the things that we do for winter weather over to severe weather. If it's a bad winter storm or if the road’s covered in snow or maybe you leave work earlier or maybe you don't travel maybe you don't go get the light fixture, you know maybe you wait till tomorrow to do that. And we need to do that more with tornadoes, it's so easy to avoid being caught in that situation if you just pay attention.

BROOKS: And to me one of the things about May 31st is that I wish I understood why it happened. I mean I know there are some aspects of specific messaging on the day that came out, but how much of it was post-traumatic stress. We had the 19th and the 20th, and locally had been in a Tornado Watch I think the 29th and 30th. So there had been nothing big happened those days but there were watches, and I remember having to make minor changes and plans for that. And we saw back on May 24th, 2011 today's after the Joplin tornado it wasn't has bad but there was awful lot of panic behavior on that day at least in Norman. And so that's one of those things that we don't... these kinds of events are at this point at least seemed to be so unusual. I don't think we actually know why it happened and if we can't figure out why it happened it's really hard to figure out how to get the messaging out to get people to not do that. 

SMITH: What we know is that people that did it last May 20th or May 31st who felt like that was a good thing to do they’re alive today or whatever their reasoning is they'll probably do it again. People have been doing this for years and years and years. It didn't start last year. We just hope people will look at what happened last year and think twice about it. There's case when you have to go somewhere but you can't wait if you wait until the warnings out it’s too late. 

BROOKS: If you're the only person that goes its great but 500,000 of your closet friends decide to leave at the you know that's a whole different ball game.

GWARTNEY: It's been a long time since saw at eight years old and we had our car lifted up off the road when I was eight years old trying to get to a shelter from our perfectly nice home during a storm. Another question?

ANNE MASTERS: Yes, I'm Anne Masters, I'm with the Pioneer Library System and welcome to the Moore Public Library. Public libraries are public buildings but they aren't storm shelters there not safety shelters and we worry about our customers and our employees and struggle with the question of what time how much time ahead if we're going close the building so people can find safer place to be. And then after a certain point you shouldn't be out on the roads so we do the best we can by their very nature libraries are open with a bunch of potentially flying objects in them and so what advice can you give to us and our customers regarding being in places like libraries during the storms or how much time in advance do we need to have to close?

SMITH: Well in most cases for the big days like for May 20th or May 31st we're going to be able to provide you with some fairly specific windows of time we think it's most likely to happen. On May 20th we were saying it's going to be from 2:00-5:00 that was the main window. It was later on May 31st but hours in advance is about as good as it's going to get. A tornado watch is going to come out at some point and it'll be in effect for six hours and it will cover two third of the state of Oklahoma and that's not going to give you a lot more detail. It really just comes down again to monitoring the weather. On May 20th we know the storms were going to form just the county west from us here and it was going to happen very fast and happen early in the day. There is no one size fits all answer to that. We know that and Michelann can maybe address this too. We know that more and more libraries, schools, and hospitals the Moore Medical had 200-300 hundred people that didn't really belong there on May 20th when the tornado hit. Are building had 1,100 people in it on May 31st, we are not a tornado shelter. There were 8,000 people on the OU campus taking shelter. None of those buildings are tornado shelters. So that we could do a whole other show on that, that's a huge issue and that's a real dilemma because people who don't feel safe where they are want to go to a building and they think the build like the one we are in right now, they are with other people, it's public building, it's open, it's safe but as you know this is not a shelter. 

OOTEN: I think Rick is exactly right, first of all there is not a one size fits all I like that. Each storm system has it's one personality and its own dangers I would imagine and its own circumstances to when it’s going to hit, how’s it's going be and all that and again we continue to look at the people who understand the since to gain there knowledge. I think more than anything is just to be ready, that as much as I can get out there and preach that you need to stay home, you need to shelter in place, you need have a plane. There are going to be times when people just shove that aside, even if they believed it the day before the tornado can through. The day of the tornado that they've got a warning on now they're going to try and seek refuge somewhere else. And so I think we can say easily well you should shut your doors and don't worry about it but we can't do that of course. So you have to have a plan, business whether it’s a hospital, library whatever how you're going to handle that.

BROOKS: And for me one of the first things I do is that I's make sure that'd identified where's my staff going. Very good point. Cause those are the people at one level you actually have a real responsibility for and you also know they're going to be in your building. And we ran into the concept of when, Rick and I, were working a project looking at the Norman Public Schools plan from having some other discussion we'd learned that places that essentially have red, yellow and green areas in their buildings. And red means they don't think that's survivable and you basically your staff should know, okay these are the green dot rooms, if we have to do something in a hurry this is where everybody goes. If we have to use the yellow okay but we don't want to use and we sure the heck don't want to get into the red areas. So basically your people with a little bit of training would know maybe. This is the first time I've been in the Moore library I've been Norman library a lot more. I know where the bathrooms are, I know where some of the other areas are inside the offices, I know where staff can all go in there and customers can go and everybody including that teenage volunteer who’s working that even at your office at your building needs to know. Okay these are the places to go so we can get people into them.

GWARTNEY: Other questions from the audience?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Yeah, how fast does a tornado go along the ground 30 miles per hour? 50 miles per hour?

BROOKS: On average probably about 30 mph, the fastest one we know about run on the order of around 70 mph but 30 is more common and around here 70 is very, very rare. That's more of a winter time south eastern US kind of phenomena. Most of them I would as 30-40 mph

SMITH: But it’s never at a constant speed, they’re constantly changing. The El Reno tornado went from moving from 25 mph to moving 50 mph in the space of about five minutes. The it did a complete circle over I-40. the Moore tornado did a complete loop a complete circle over the 7/11 at SW 4th and Telephone Road. So they never go on a straight line and the never travel at constant speed. But 30 is about the average

BROOKS: And one little thing as long that I want to make sure with everyone. One of the misconceptions that I know about that is very local to this place is that people think that the Warren Theatre is magic. The Warren Theatre was basically not hit by the tornado, it survived the best that it did because it didn't get hit by the tornado. Because I'm pretty sure that people will be showing up at the Warren when there's a tornado watch this year and that just not a very good idea. The difference in the winds that the medical center got and the theatre got was huge.

GWARTNEY: Which just goes to speak to the fact of how difficult it is to really know how things are going to end up. I mean I could keep saying be prepared be prepared. Is there another question from our audience?

SMITH: Kurt, while were looking for another questions just to speak to that. We are blessed and fortunate here to have incredible TV meteorologist there is know where else like it on the planet, where we have such intense complete comprehensive coverage of everything that is going on. And I mean that in a good way but sometimes we are victims of our own success. I heard a story after the May 20th tornado someone that was near or at the Moore Medical Center. They kept hearing someone on TV saying it’s going to hit the Warren Theatre it's going to hit the Warren Theatre and they left a since of relief that it was not going to hit the Moore Medical Center. Well if you know where those two things are there's like a parking lot in between them. We're not that good and you should always you should never take the times you see on television, you should never take the exact precise street, intersection location as the absolute truth. There's always very fuzzy edges on all that, so you cannot assume "Well they say it’s going hit at 19th and Telephone Road.," Well, I live a block up the road so I'm okay. No, you need there's a big buffer around that. Even here, even with the close radar, even with the coverage you need to always assume that the information is not as precise as it seems like it is.

BROOKS: And on the May 19th tornado one of the TV stations I was hearing was talking about the fact that circulation was going to cross the Canadian River at Lindsey and where Lindsey Street would go west. And I go, “Okay I'm good on where that is.” And the next time they said Main and I'm going well there is only a mile north south between there but with the way the river bends there is actual four miles differences. And I live between Lindsey and Main, so if the circulation is crossing the river at Lindsey we’re in the shelter. If it’s crossing at Main we have no problems at home. And I started realizing even though that's a really small difference when you look if I'm T.V. guy looking at my radar map that actually looks like that's not much of a difference. In reality it was a huge difference for me personally at my house. They are looking maybe looking at a big map and they’ve got a big blobby radar echo. Their precision and ability to locate the exact location is not as good, as Rick was saying, as good as they say they are. And if you know the local terrain you may actually notice that at time that they are off, so they are off by one pixel on the radar that's really all we are talking about. That's not a very big area in terms of reading the radar, but if you live on either side of that pixel that's a big difference.

SMITH: And we have the exact same limitations. All radar, all meteorologists have the same problems. We don't put exact times in warnings; we don't put exact streets intersections locations unless we are 100% confident that's where it is. Precision does not always equal accuracy.

GWARTNEY: Understood. And I want to close with a question to our panel and this is kind of an after the fact question again. As a researcher of disaster recovery one of the terms I've come to hear is the term resilient, and my questions to the panel and will just pass it around starting with Michelann. What makes a person, a family, a business; a community resilient has the ability to bounce back more quickly after a devastating storm?

OOTEN: Well I think the number one thing is the planning again. Making sure that they have a plan in place, how they are going to handle a situation that comes there way. None of us can imagine exactly how, talking about severe storms here tonight, exactly how that severe storm is going to impact us. But we stand a better chance of being successful and being resilient and being able to get back on our feet the more we do to prepare for that should it happen. And of course you have to do the preparation in advance and we do see that with people, and we are not trying to scary people or cause them to do things that are unrealistic. We're just saying take a little time have a plan, be prepared have that disaster supply kit in place and stay informed. Those are pretty easy steps and again that has already been discussed here tonight we're not talking about a huge block in your life span here. We're talking about a fairly insignificant amount of time but it can make a huge differences whether you are badly injured or something worse than that and again help you and your family get back on our feet to work through that recovery process because all too many people here in Moore and in other places across Oklahoma can testify it's a tough road to get back on your feet after you've seen everything taken from you because of a tornado or wild fire or any of the other threats that face our wonderful state.

SMITH: I think Michelann hit on all the key points. I think we learn a lot from looking at past events, so I think we can learn a lot by looking at how the people of Moore responded to this event and Oklahoma City, Newcastle, Carney, Shawnee everyone that was affected by tornadoes last year, how they responded. I think Harold's got a great story I don't know if he is going to share it about the differences of what people need or wanted or looked for in the immediate aftermath of the tornado. Someone who had been through other tornadoes in Moore vs. new people. We learn from every experience and I think you're going to be more resilient if you've thought about it in advance, if you talk to your insurance agent to make sure your coverage is up to date and you've got everything you need. Are your important papers ready to go? The more you do before the storm are on radar the calmer of an experience it's going to be and you are going to be more able to bounce back after that because if you’re not prepared and everything is just completely chaotic and your life is just completely destroyed with no structure or no planning around that it's going to be very hard but I think again all night just think about it in advance plan and prepare.

BROOKS: And I will tell the story, but before I get to it one thing on the community level. I think is do good buildings and I don't me you have to go build a reinforced concrete house for everybody just do simple things. I have a friend that does a lot of damage surveying he says he'd liked to see better codes but before we add better codes let’s just build what we have right to code as a starting point. Something simple like that, you know actually put the nuts on the bolts kind of thing. Use nuts and bolts rather than nails. And the story Rick was talking about was my daughter was home from college on May 20th and she did one of those things that make you proud as a parent. She said, "You know, I'm just home a couple of weeks. I'm not doing anything, a lot of people are going to have trouble tonight the first night." She went up to Journey Church to work as a volunteer and just help out at the thing because she said, "You know if just stay at home I'm just going to sleep in the morning. I might as well go up there and work all night." Well it took a couple hours before she was the number one clothes sorter by size of stuff that was there. And one of the things she found in talking to some of the people who had been through May 3rd was that who had been through the on relief side May 3rd. The people who had been affected by May 3rd came in and asked for different things than the people who hadn't been through May 3rd. The May 3rd people all came in and asked for plastic bags so they could go take care of whatever belongings they still had that weren't ruined. The people who hadn't been through May 3rd came in and asked for some clothes so they could change clothes. And she said they started realizing and starting then suggesting to the people who hadn't been through May 3rd, "You want to take some trash bags so you can go pick up your stuff?" And that was one of those things that people had learned and responded differently when they went through the second event.

GWARTNEY: Well that's our time for now and thank you to Michelann Ooten, Deputy Director with the state Office of Emergency Management. Rick Smith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Norman Forecast Office of the National Weather Service and Harold Brooks, Senior Scientist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory providing just tons of information to help us prepare for the spring storm season. Let’s give them a round of applause for all their time. Also I want to point out that the American Red Cross has some information in the back if you'd like to start you preparedness. If you're not there yet they have some great information there. Also thanks to the Moore Public Library for hosting us. Also thank to the KGOU staff and management for getting everything set up recorded and other wised managed. It true takes all of us working together to bring you events like this and also I want to point out in particular one person Kate Carlton. Kate stand up, she is are reporter for the Oklahoma Tornado Project and you can find her work and more information online at tornado.kgou.org that's what you are seeing on the screen and also if you have that story idea or have some information with Kate you can find her contact information online. For KGOU, I'm Kurt Gwartney. Thank you all so much.

Copyright © 2014 KGOU Radio. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to KGOU Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only. Any other use requires KGOU's prior permission.

KGOU transcripts are created on a rush deadline by our staff, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of KGOU's programming is the audio.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
More News
Support nonprofit, public service journalism you trust. Give now.