City advises residents to shelter in place

Ponca City Now - March 25, 2015 7:15 pm

I n a recent City Commission discussion on disasters and severe storms. Mayor Homer Nicholson reminded residents that Ponca City does not have public storm shelters.

The Mayor said all residents should shelter in their location if a severe storm strikes and shelter in place.

He said the Office of Emergency Management DOES NOT advise residents to be out in the event of severe weather or to try to get to a location such as a church or school.

He reminds residents that there is no plan for such structures to be open to the public, and residents cannot count on such buildings to be open in an emergency.

A policy statement printed on Ponca City’s city offices website states:

The City of Ponca City does not maintain public storm shelters. At this time there are no buildings that meet the construction specifications established by Texas Tech University’s Wind Science and Engineering Department, and adopted by FEMA. In addition, there are a number of reasons why relying on a public shelter is a dangerous idea.

Travel: Travel to a public shelter puts the individual at more risk than he would be exposed to if sheltering in place. The risk of injury or death during severe weather is ten times greater when vehicles are involved. Travel can involve other obstacles as well. Debris blocked roadways and traffic jams are common problems. People will leave their vehicles anywhere when in a hurry to reach shelter. Just walking to your car can put your life in danger from flying debris. Vehicles are NEVER safe in severe weather and the last place you want to be.



Public Shelters: There are a number of problems with the use of public shelters. Of these, shelter accessibility is the biggest challenge. Public shelters are most often staffed by volunteers, who may or may not be available at the time of need. Such a shelter needs to be opened early enough to allow for safe travel to the location, but this time demand on volunteers can be a hindrance to participation. Imagine going to a shelter only to find it locked up tight. Add to this the fact that to be considered an approved shelter, the building must comply with strict construction requirements.



Public Apathy: Jurisdictions that maintain public shelters see increased apathy among the users. Residents fail to consider their personal disaster planning and are not prepared when emergencies occur. Those that resort to public shelters begin to arrive later and later, which places them in serious danger. When it comes to severe weather, apathy is difficult to overcome until disaster strikes.



Are there alternatives? Although some jurisdictions provide public shelter, emergency management professionals and experts in the field of severe weather strongly recommend only one solution: personal pre-planning for severe weather events. Plans should focus on two critical areas.



Develop a plan and practice it regularly with all family members. The plan should include the identification of an appropriate shelter site, and a system to communicate with family members.



Residential safe rooms or personal storm shelters provide the best protection from tornados and high wind events. If underground shelter is not available it is still a better option to “shelter in place.” Standard residential housing typically provides survivable shelter for 95% of the tornadoes experienced in Oklahoma. Simply remember the basics; Get in, Get down, Cover up. Translated this means go to the lowest level possible, put as many walls as you can between yourself the outdoors, and protect your head and body from injuries using blankets, pillows, coats; anything that will provide padding. The only exception to this suggestion is manufactured housing. Individuals living in manufactured housing or mobile homes should ALWAYS seek shelter elsewhere.



Awareness is vital! If you live in Oklahoma you know that severe weather is a real threat. There are

numerous systems that can ensure your awareness, including all-hazard or weather radios, free notification programs for your computer or phone and local broadcast media.



Constructing a personal shelter is the best option, but if that is not possible…..develop your plan today and stay informed of conditions.

 

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