Why Lawton doesn’t have public storm shelters

As severe weather season rolls in, everyone is making emergency preparations. But not everyone has a storm shelter and rely on public shelters.
Published: May. 1, 2019 at 6:19 PM CDT
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LAWTON, OK (TNN) - As severe weather season rolls in, everyone is making emergency preparations. But not everyone has a storm shelter, and some rely on buildings being opened to the public.

There are public storm shelters scattered in small towns across Comanche County but there actually aren't any public storms shelters here in Lawton.

Ashleigh Hensch with Comanche County Emergency Management said in the past, they opened up Lawton schools to the public for severe weather, but she said that put everyone in a dangerous position.

"It’s more dangerous to be outside on the streets when we have a tornado coming through. Even if it’s just straight-line winds when we’re getting 80 to 90 mile per hour, sometimes higher, wind gusts, it’s really dangerous to be outside. The biggest thing is debris. With that high wind you’re going to have debris flying everywhere. It’s going to be hitting your car, that causes more damage, more injury and more deaths every year than if you just stayed at home and found the safest space in your home to shelter,” Hensch said.

Hensch said they also ran into issues with actually getting the shelters open.

"Normally our storms come in later in the day. If that public building is closed and we have somebody designated to open it but maybe they’re on vacation or maybe they’re trying to get to the shelter but there’s too much traffic on the way and they can’t get there. Or if something happened to them on the way and they got into an accident or injured themselves, then they can’t go and open the shelter, then we have a bunch of people waiting outside not able to get in. That’s a way worse situation than if you had just stayed home and sheltered in place,” Hensch said.

While there aren’t shelters in Lawton, that’s not the case for the rest of Comanche County. In Elgin, the 2nd grade gym is open. In Cache, the building next door to the senior citizens center is open. The school and Mennonite church in Indiahoma are open to the public, as is the Methodist church in Sterling. Geronimo Public Schools is also open.

"It’s just something small towns do, take care of each other. There’s lots of people who don’t have a personal shelter so with that in mind, it wouldn’t make sense to have a large one that people aren’t using and not have it available,” said Geronimo Superintendent Bill Pascoe.

If you do not have a storm shelter at your house but there is a tornado, Hensch said you should take shelter on the lowest level in your home, in the most central room with no windows.

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