With impeccable timing, this is Emergency Management Week in Oklahoma and was also the beginning of storm season.

Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch said the season was definitely early and looks like it may be busy.

THE ISSUE: Oklahoma has it all in the hazards department, especially when it comes to the spring severe weather season — floods, thunderstorms and lightning, hail and tornados. Earthquakes and wildfires also are ongoing threats.

LOCAL IMPACT: Pottawatomie County's Emergency Management Director Don Lynch is helping Shawnee and surrounding areas stay alert during this spring severe storm season and explains how to be prepared once danger comes.

With impeccable timing, this is Emergency Management Week in Oklahoma and was also the beginning of storm season.

Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch said the season was definitely early and looks like it may be busy.

With the severe weather Pottawatomie County experienced last Monday, this is a good time for families to review their disaster preparedness setting, he said.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at noaa.gov, so far this year, Oklahoma has experienced 59 instances of severe weather, such as one tornado, 25 reports of hail and 33 cases of severe wind.

In the nation, NOAA reports 20 deaths this year due to tornadoes: four in Missouri and 16 in Georgia.

NOAA's storm data show the largest number of tornadoes occur from April through June –– often into July.

Staying safe –– as residents in the state know all too well –– is about remaining tuned in to the season as storms blow through.

Oklahomans have had a lot of practice –– they've been there, done that –– but it's never a good idea to get too complacent about the dangers each spring brings.

“Planning and preparedness are keys to safety,” Lynch said.

Lynch recommends having multiple means of receiving severe weather warnings. Local television and radio station alerts, a NOAA all-hazards (weather) radio, e-mail, text, and telephone alerting systems are all good methods of receiving the warning. It’s important to recognize that each system has its capabilities and its limitations; therefore a combination of systems helps you maximize the opportunity to receive warnings in a timely fashion.

Sirens

The City of Shawnee maintains a network of 20 outdoor warning devices — that includes three around the Shawnee Twin Lakes, which is also in City Limits, Lynch said.

“These devices weren’t designed to alert people who are in their homes,” he said. “They’re meant to warn people outside of possible danger. It is a common misconception that you should be able to hear the sirens inside of homes and structures. That may not necessarily be the case. It depends on your proximity to the device.”

The devices were made to provide an audible signal at 70 decibels. The wind, background noise, and terrain are factors which cause that sound level to vary from one location to another. Shawnee’s outdoor warning devices are sounded during severe weather when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for a tornadic storm that is approaching or in Shawnee, or when trained emergency management spotters sight a funnel cloud, persistently rotating wall cloud, or tornado in or approaching the city limits.

“If the devices go off during a thunderstorm, it means take your immediate safety precautions and seek additional information,” Lynch added. The City of Shawnee does not sound an all-clear signal. The devices are audibly tested at noon on Wednesdays when the sky is clear and weather permits.

“If we were under a severe weather watch at noon on a Wednesday, we would not audibly test the sirens,” Lynch said. The capability exists to silently test the devices when weather does not permit an audible test.

The Pottawatomie County Board of County Commissioners has placed outdoor warning devices in the communities of Dale, Johnson, Macomb, Saint Louis and Tribbey, Lynch said. These devices are operated in the same manner as the sirens in Shawnee.

Asher, Bethel Acres, Earlsboro, Maud, McLoud, Tecumseh, and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation also have outdoor warning devices in their communities. These devices are activated by their emergency management personnel, he said.

Have a plan

But before the sirens go off, make sure everyone already knows exactly where to be if a tornado arrives.

“The time to identify your shelter is before you need it,” he said. “When a warning is issued, you need to seek shelter immediately, not try to determine where your shelter will be or try to drive somewhere to take shelter.”

Lynch said the safest place to be is underground or in an above-ground safe room meeting Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) standards.

“If you can’t be underground, then you should be in a substantial structure on the lowest floor away from outside walls and glass,” he said. “The more walls and roofs you can get between you and the outside, the better,” he said.

Avoid mobile homes, poorly-constructed buildings, and building like gymnasiums, auditoriums, and church sanctuaries with large free-span roofs.

“Make sure you have shoes and clothing to protect you in case of flying debris and wear a helmet to protect your head if one is available,” Lynch said.

Heavy blankets or quilts should also be used to shield against flying debris.

In open country, he said, it might be possible to drive at a right angle to avoid the tornado’s path, however, there may be a limited number of roads to use to escape. This practice is not recommended in the city because of traffic delays, he said.

“It is better to abandon your vehicle and take shelter in a nearby substantially-constructed building. If a sturdy building is not available, then seek shelter in a ditch or ravine away from your vehicle.”

Lynch said never seek shelter under a bridge or overpass.

“These structures do not afford any protection from flying debris,” he said.

Lynch said Shawnee/Pottawatomie County Emergency Management is fortunate to have a group of 25 volunteer tornado spotters. These personnel are trained yearly by the National Weather Service and donate their time and gasoline to serve as the eyes of the community, safely tracking storms as they approach our area, Lynch said.

Lynch said during power outages it is helpful to have flashlights with extra batteries and a NOAA All-Hazards (Weather) radio or other battery powered portable radio with extra batteries to help keep you informed on the storm’s location. Keep necessary medications, a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and some small tools handy to deal with the effects of the storm.

Ahead of the game

Lynch said emergency managers help protect the community by coordinating and integrating all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability of the community to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from threatened or actual natural, technological, and national security disasters and emergency events.

“We have a great relationship with our stakeholders in all levels of government; businesses and industry; the media; and civic and voluntary organizations active in disasters,” said Lynch.

“It’s because of the dedication of these stakeholders that we are successful,” he added.

Lynch noted that individuals and families also have a role to play in emergency management.

“There are five things that every household should do to be prepared,” he said. They are:

• Know the hazards that can affect them:

Oklahoma has it all in the hazards department and the more you know about the hazards, the better you can prepare for their effects. Sometimes hazards can cause cascading events. Windstorms, ice storms and tornados can take power lines down. Flooding can cause water systems to be contaminated while homes and businesses are under water the same time as roads are under cut and flooded. Earthquakes can cause significant damage to structures without any sign they are about to happen.

• Make a plan to deal with those hazards:

Residents are encouraged to draw up escape routes and designate meeting places, as well as communicating the plan to family members.

“You can begin this process by gathering family members and reviewing the information you obtained about hazards, warning systems, evacuation routes, and community and other plans. Discuss with them what you would do if family members are not at home when a warning is issued,” Lynch said. “A code word for kids to be used when a child needs to be picked up by a non-parent.”

Other measures include utility shut off and safety; insurance and vital records; special needs; caring for animals; and safety skills.

“In addition to the people you care for on a day to day basis, consider the needs of your neighbors and people with special needs,” he added.

• Compile a disaster supplies kit:

At home, your kit you should keep this kit in a designated place and have it ready in case you have to leave your home immediately. Make certain all family members know where the kit is kept.

Your work kit should be in one container and ready to “grab and go” in case you are evacuated from work. Make certain you have food and water as well as a comfortable pair of walking shoes in case you have to walk long distances during an evacuation.

A car kit should contain food, water, first aid supplies, flares, jumper cables and seasonal supplies.

• Perform an inventory of your possessions.

• Learn emergency skills that you can apply during an emergency/disaster.

“We encourage our citizens to visit Ready.gov or RedCross.org for more information on these topics.” Lynch said.

He said residents also are encouraged to register their personal tornado shelter or safe room online by visiting www.shawneeok.org/PublicSafety/EmergencyManage/Shelter or by calling (405) 878-1650 during regular business hours.

You can reach Vicky O. Misa at (405) 214-3962.