This past June, on Father’s Day Weekend, northeast Oklahoma experienced what is referred to as a “derecho.” This term references a long-lasting squall line of severe storms that produces winds of greater than 58 mph, along a path longer than 240 miles. Tulsa and its surrounding communities experienced some of the strongest winds, with gusts topping out near 100 mph.
Oklahoma can experience all sorts of severe weather, as well as other environmental disasters that can pose significant threats to both person and property. These can range from spring and summer tornadoes to flash-flooding, hail, and winter weather events like ice storms or blizzards. The state also has its share of wildfires, earthquakes and high wind events.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (ODEMHS) is charged, among other critical tasks, with preparing Oklahomans for these severe weather and environmental emergencies, and for providing help after these events have happened. Keli Cain, public affairs director for the department, offers some helpful tips that could prevent loss of life and help citizens deal with present and future incidents.
Preparing your home for natural disasters is a great way to start.
“Ensure your roof is secure with impact-resistant shingles and roof strappings to anchor the roof to the walls,” Cain says. “You can make sure damaged trees or limbs are removed, and plant new trees away from the house so they won’t cause damage later. Secure objects outside the house that could be thrown into the house by winds, and secure manufactured homes to a foundation with anchor bolts.”
Other tips include installing an above- or below-ground safe room, or ensuring you have a designated area inside the home during severe weather, like a bathroom or closet on the ground floor with no outside walls or windows.
“Finally, check your insurance policy to make sure you have the coverage you need in case you do have damage from a natural disaster,” she says. “This includes adding a flood insurance policy if you live in a floodplain.”
Being proactive and enacting general safety measures should be high priority.
“In Oklahoma, severe weather can be any time of year. So it’s important to stay weather aware,” says Cain. “Spring may be our most active season for tornadoes and flooding, but as we’ve seen, storms don’t stop at the end of May. Identify your safe place ahead of time so you will know where to go at home, work and school. If you live in a mobile home or an upper floor in an apartment complex, make plans to stay with a friend or family member on active weather days, and get there early. Don’t try to leave your home for other shelter in the middle of a severe storm, because you can be injured in transit.”
Other tips include having a communications plan to make sure family members can reunite after a storm; keeping storm supplies handy, like flashlights, batteries, sturdy shoes and gloves; and organizing/storing important medications and paperwork close at hand.
How to Help Your Community
So, who can help Oklahomans during and after severe weather events and other natural disasters?
“Anyone and everyone has the ability to help,” says Cain. “You can help friends prepare for severe weather, invite neighbors or friends to stay in your storm shelter during a storm, share information about storm safety and resources, or help neighbors with clean-up after a storm occurs.
“For those who want to help out in a more organized way, there are dozens of churches and volunteer agencies that provide assistance with various disaster relief activities like sheltering, feeding or clean-up, and they are always looking for new volunteers or cash donations to help support their cause.”
Visit okvoad.org/current-members to find an organization to volunteer with.