Public Storm Shelters: Few And Far Between

Wednesday, April 25th 2012, 4:41 pm
By: News 9

Long time Midwest City native, BJ Anderson keeps an eye on the skies, especially during Oklahoma's peak severe weather season. He's glad he can count on the city's community storm shelters when a tornado is coming his way.

"They're trying to look out for their citizens," Anderson said.

Ironically, Midwest City's largest shelter, inside the Reed Center, sits where a tornado wiped out everything in sight in 1999.

Midwest City Emergency Management Director Mike Bower is in charge of three public shelters. The Reed Center holds 1,400 people. Another 200 can seek shelter at City Hall and the Fire Station on Westminster just south of Reno. But Bower says a public shelter also has its disadvantages and should be a last resort.

"You're having to get in a car to come to a public shelter, that's dangerous." Bower said. "Once you get there and it's full and you have to leave, that's dangerous as well."

4/13/2012 Related Story: Oklahoma Severe Weather: A List Of Public Shelters In The Metro

Bower says your first choice for shelter should be a safe room at home. If you don't have one, you should know a neighbor who does. That's because many other cities in Oklahoma don't offer shelter to the public. Moore is one of them.

Moore's emergency manager Gayland Kitch said with the city's growth, getting to a public shelter would cause traffic jams, putting even more people at risk.

"The biggest problem we have here in Moore is we have no location for one," Kitch said.

Another concern: How big would it be?

"Obviously as we've grown our size has become a factor," said Kitch, who believes the best weather protection is being weather aware. "Knowing ahead of time what plan of action you have to take."

Back in Midwest City, BJ Anderson is glad he has a backup plan.

"They can't look out for you cradle to grave," Anderson said. "But it's nice to have a place to go when you really need it."

A new state law that goes into effect in November exempts public entities from liability if they open up their shelter to the public. Midwest City's shelter is open to anyone, not just residents of the city.