The Woodward News

Local News

April 30, 2014

Preparing for, recovering from disasters focus of workshop

If you have a storm shelter and it is not in a local registry, you better pack a lot of water and supplies, because you could be there a long time.

The comments about the importance of registering storm shelters with local emergency management authorities were made Tuesday by Oklahoma Municipal League Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Workshop speaker Kathy Bolles.

Bolles is the city attorney for Midwest City and helped manage her city through the 1999 tornados that destroyed so much of that community.

Emergency management personnel, police, fire and other first responders from Yukon, Guymon, Shawnee, Midwest City and other cities made their way Tuesday to Woodward for the first ever Oklahoma Municipal League Disaster Preparedness and Recovery Workshop.

The workshop, held at the Conference Center was an all day event and  open to the public and anyone in leadership positions who might need to help organize a disaster recovery program for their small town or city.

Speakers came from all over the state including Damon Lane, Chief Meteorologist with KOCO-TV 5, Steve Palladino and Dara Hays with Oklahoma Emergency Management and Bolles, as well as Mary Ann Karns, city attorney for Shawnee.

Break out sessions included topics such as severe weather safety, mitigation planning and projects for communities, how to prepare for your next disaster, managing legal risks and a talk from Woodward's own Matt Lehenbauer who spoke about lessons learned following Woodward's recent disasters.

"Storm shelters are really only good if you have someone who knows where they are and can come take the trees and debris off of them and let you out of them," Bolles said. "How many people here have a storm shelter registry?"

Woodward County has a storm shelter registry, according to Lehenbauer, Woodward's emergency management director. Residents who wish to register their shelter can call www.readywoodward.com.

You have to be a Woodward County resident to become a member of any of the three programs offered by the site, Lehenbauer said.

"But these are good programs that people in Woodward should be a part of," he said.

After registering your storm shelter, another program residents should consider is a system that will send a text, email and make a phone call during a life threatening emergency, he said.

"Many times a phone call won't go through but a text will," Lehenbauer said. "Or maybe someone can' t get either one of those but they still have internet and they can get an email."

The third program is a weather radio purchase program.

"People can go on there and purchase weather radios on the site for $35 delivered," Lehenbauer said.  "We don't make any money off of those but this company that sells them, they donate one and so these are ones I can put in a day care centers and other private entities that need them where I cannot legally purchase them for."

Bolles directed many of her comments to city and disaster management staff who usually are responsible for creating disaster plans.

According to Bolles, being prepared with a good disaster management program helps a community serve the citizens better during the immediate aftermath of a disaster, but also helps the city recover more quickly, protects the city from predatory contractors and even some less than honest "helpers".

"For me, 1999 seemed like the first major tornado and while I know it wasn't, it just seemed like everything was great and then it ripped a seam right  up through the middle of the state and one of the lessons we learned were the people in Oklahoma are the best in people anywhere."

But even though Bolls' experience with Oklahomans has been good, she warned that there are some predatory people who come along and offer to help but are just looking for an opportunity to defraud cities or even private companies. For that reason, Bolles suggested that cities be careful about having just any volunteers come and help during a disaster.

"So when all of your church groups and individuals show up and want to help, keep in mind they are covered by your workers compensation if they are working for you and something happens," Bolles said. "You have to remember, even though there are a lot of great people here, there are some dishonest people  who have no problem with having your workers comp pay for them to be disabled and sit at home all day watching day-time television."

Bolles also suggested to help defray the costs associated with immediate aftermath clean up, cities should consider a disaster or emergency savings account where funds are kept to help pay for immediate clean up.

When clean up is completed, it is often weeks and months before FEMA reimburses a city for their expenses, she said.

Bolles suggested adding five cents to water bills and state clearly on the bill that the additional five cents is going into a disaster savings account that helps pay for crews to help clear streets and helps people get back to their homes after a disaster.

Workshop attendees also learned it is important to keep a disaster notebook that has all of the plans and principal personnel included. It should have tasks for each member of the team as well as what each of those team members are expected to do during such an event, said Karns.

Karns reminded city managers and emergency managers that they need to have a back up to the normal computerized way people communicate now.

"That means you have to use paper maybe to document," Barns said. "So that should be a part of your back up, and pens because you may be without electricity so long that your batteries in your cell phone and computer go dead and you will have to document using paper."

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