Staying safe without public storm shelters - KSWO 7News | Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Staying safe without public storm shelters

LAWTON, Okla._With the threat of severe weather, Lawton citizens need to be aware that there are no designated public storm shelters.

Previously, citizens could go to fire departments or schools, like MacArthur High, to take shelter, but city officials say they decided to do away with them about 15 years ago.

Assistant City Manager Jim Russell said they closed the shelters because they weren't FEMA certified, people were bringing in pets and getting people in and out of the shelters was keeping public safety employees from helping out on the streets. But most importantly, Russell says hitting the road to get to shelter is not your safest option.

Russell says even though it's been awhile since the city stopped offering public shelters, citizens are still looking for a safe place to go.

"Over the last couple years, we've had people that have gone to the schools that assumed were a public safety shelter and the doors are locked and they can't get in. So, they go to the local fire station and they're out trying to find shelter in a time they should be taking shelter," said Russell.

He says trying to find these safe places can make them much more unsafe than if they had just stayed home.

"The travel time of getting from your home or work or business to the shelter places you on the street at the most vulnerable times of a storm," said Russell.

But it's not just for individual safety, Russell says during this vulnerable time public safety employees need to be out helping on the streets, and if they're directing people to these public shelters and unlocking doors they're distracted from their job.

"We would hope that people would try to clear the streets if something was happening and seek shelter instead of trying to drive from one place to another to get to shelter," said Russell.

So, Russell and other city officials suggest citizens take 'shelter in place' precautions when severe weather strikes.

"'Shelter in place' simply means that wherever you're at—whether you're at home, at school, at work, in the mall, in a grocery store, wherever you happen to be—take shelter there. We want to get you away from as many windows and possible flying debris. We want to get you into a location where you can take shelter, take refuge and be safe instead of pulling you out into the streets," explained Russell.

Russell suggests when taking these 'shelter in place' precautions, to remember to "DUCK." Go Downstairs, Under something, take Cover and Keep center.

The city also wants to remind citizens that if you have a storm shelter, you need to register it with the Emergency Management Department. That will allow first responders to help get you out if it happens to be covered by debris after a storm. You can register your shelter with the city by calling (580) 355-0535 from 7:00 a.m. to noon or 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

The city has partnered with Everbridge to provide disaster related emergency notifications. Click here to sign up for the free program.

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