Midwest City Considers Closing Storm Shelter

Monday, June 13th 2011, 6:56 pm
By: News 9

Darren Brown, News9

MIDWEST CITY, Oklahoma -- Public storm shelters are a controversial issue for most cities, but Midwest City has long offered them.  Now they're having second thoughts.

The basement of City Hall  has a few small lobby areas, but is mainly occupied by the Emergency Operations Center.  According to Midwest City's mayor Jack Fry, no one seems to know exactly how it evolved into a public storm shelter.

"Basically that's what the basement is, a system of hallways," said Fry.  "It's not a true facility for shelter." 

On May 24, those hallways became extremely crowded.  The maximum occupancy load of 143 was easily exceeded, perhaps doubled, according to Fry, and that's where the problem lies. 

"We reached a point to where we were overcrowded," said Fry. 

The crowd not only exceeded the posted load, but hampered Emergency Operations.  Had the storm actually hit Midwest City, it could have been much worse.

We wouldn't have been able to get any of our own emergency management workers into the facility," Fry said.

Those concerns have led Midwest City leaders to discuss the possibility of closing City Hall's shelter to the public.

"It may be something by the next tornado season comes around, this may no longer be a public shelter," Fry said.

Some people were turned away according to Fry, and one woman even shattered a glass door trying to get into the shelter.

"When you're in a situation like that and you're scared, I probably would have done the same thing," said  Kim Williams.  Williams lives about a block from Midwest City's City Hall, and scrambled to the shelter herself back in May of 1999 with her husband.

"By the time we got over there you couldn't even get into the parking lot," Williams said.  "The cars were backed up onto the street."

Williams and her husband are now formulating a plan to put in their own storm shelter, but it's not so easy for City Hall.

"How do you lock the door on the person that's trying' to come in out of the bad weather?" said Fry.  "That's why this discussion is going to happen."  

Find a tornado shelter in your community.