WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- I used to live in Oklahoma City, Edmond actually from May of 1994 through October of 1997. I worked in "tornado alley" at KOCO-TV. Even though I had earned a degree in Atmospheric Science, I had no idea how much 'on the job' training I would receive. Being there, actually living there is far more educational than the classroom.
My house in Edmond was a 4 bedroom house with a 2 car garage and a fenced in back yard, but no basement. It was built on a slab like many homes in that part of the world. The ground is very tough clay and digging is hard, so many homes are on slabs and not everyone has an underground place to hide. You can have a storm shelter installed, but you're probably talking $10,000, give or take, and not everyone can afford that. We were lucky to have a friend across town with an older home and an underground shelter and an invitaion if we ever needed it. Fortunately, my wife only had to use it once and that day, the storm never touched down.
When you live in Oklahoma, you are keenly aware of the threat from Mother Nature; you have to be. I recall talking with kids in first and second grade and talking about how tornadoes can kill them. I did not do this to scare them but they needed to be aware of the threat so that they could know what to do. If you don't respect the power of the weather, you're not likely to prepare for it. And even if you prepare, there are still no guarantees. The kids in Plaza Towers Elementary did what they had practiced, but many perished. One has to wonder why that school had no underground shelter or reinforced hallway that would have saved those kids. This is a decision that community made when they built that school and one they most likely regret.
So, while we struggle with all of us this? I ask the question to all of you, do you have a plan should severe weather hit? Are you prepared?
1) Identify a "safe" area in your home. A basement is the safest, or an interior room on the lowest level if you have no basement.
2) A meeting place after the event. Whether it be a friend's or neighbors home or some other location. But, everyone in the family has to know it and having a second and even a third choice is wise.
3) Make sure that even the youngest kids know what your phone number is, in case you get separated. It is much easier to track you down if the separated child can spit out your phone number. And while I'm at it, texts are much more likely to make it than a cell phone call.
4) Have some bottled water and non perishable food....the power could be out a while and making sure you keep your car's gas tank full in advance of severe weather could also make a difference should gas stations not be working.
These are just a few suggestions. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management has a very good guide here: http://www.vaemergency.gov/readyvirginia/makeaplan
Tornadoes and other deadly events happen, there are no guarantees, but understanding the risk and planning for the worst could be the difference between life and death.
WUSA 9 Meteorologist Howard Bernstein