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Emergency Management always planning for tornados

Lawton_March is here and storm season is coming, but as we saw last month in Love Grove, tornados can pop up out of season--and have devastating effects. That's why Comanche County Emergency Management always has to be planning.  That may involve testing their alert system, compiling a list of county storm shelters and mapping them, or testing out new computer communications with other Offices of Emergency Management across the state.

Since disasters can happen anytime, the 4 employees of the Comanche County Emergency Management team are always on-call.  Although we usually only see them after emergencies, they're constantly making plans and running test exercises to make sure they're ready--just in case.

One of those drills happens every Monday at noon, starting on the roof of the Comanche County Courthouse.  Emergency Management tests the tornado sirens to ensure the system's working.  It sets off a chain reaction of all the other alert sirens in the county.

"With Lawton and Comanche County being in tornado alley, and a lot of the storms do begin over our county, we need to make sure our early warning system is up and operational for any moments' notice," says Clint Wagstaff, the Emergency Management Director for Comanche County. "A storm that might pop up over us or begin to move in from the Southwest."

If you hear sirens and it's not noon on Monday, it means there are winds over 65 miles-per-hour within 30 miles of the county--possible tornado conditions.  Emergency Management issues the warning but it's up to you to listen and take cover.

 "We ask them to turn on their local TV stations and radio to see what the latest alert is," Wagstaff says.  "Do not go outside to look.  Do not starting calling 911 to find out why they're going off.  Check immediately and see what's going on."

If you see a tornado, you can help by calling emergency management  or 7NEWS. To be trained on how to spot tornados, you can attend a community storm spotter meetings like one held Monday at the Great Plains Technology Center in Lawton. Community volunteers work with officials from the National Weather Service, Emergency Management, and the Skywarn 7 Weather Team, to identify tornados early so more people can be better informed.

"We've got radar, we've got all kinds of technology, that can give us an idea of what may be happening, but it's not until a person makes a report of hail or a tornado that we know for sure," says Rick Smith of the National Weather Service in Oklahoma City.

Emergency managers from throughout Oklahoma went to the State Capitol Monday to discuss their jobs with state legislature.  To further recognize their hard work, Governor Brad Henry proclaimed this Emergency Management Week.

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