Let me first say thank you to all who have contributed to this blog for your columns and all your wisdom. Without this site, my experience during the recent tornado would have been much different!
For some background info, I have only been prepping for about a year. I have been an Emergency Medicine physician for over 10 years. I treated patients of the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma tornado during my training years and I was involved in door to door search and rescue for the recent May 20, 2013 tornado. While my house was not hit, it did strike about half a mile from us and we did lose power for about 20 hours.
My goal for this article is to inspire those who have not prepared, to begin to do so. To help take what we learn on this site and apply it to tornado disasters. Lastly, to recognize the problems or holes this disaster caused in my plan and how to correct them thereby help others avoid the same pitfalls.
Many previous articles have talked about reluctant spouses or family members who do not think preparation is important. While we can debate the likelihood of certain disasters and calamities ahead, having a disaster plan for your family is the first step. Part of the plan should be getting the family involved. This is where leadership comes in. It might be hard to convince my wife an EMP attack is eminent and we need a large Faraday cage, but it is not hard to convince her a tornado in Oklahoma will happen. Basic prepping is a good idea regardless of the situation it will be used in.
BEGIN WITH THE ESSENTIALS
If you are new to this site, water, food, shelter, and protection are the basics. Almost immediately after the tornado went through, there was some concern about the local water supply. One issue was contamination, and the other was pump failure at the treatment plant. Having several cases on hand was such a comfort. Same goes with food. I was ready. Shelter may be destroyed, have alternate plans. Maybe having a stash at another location would be wise with friends, family or a storage locker. A lot has been said on protection. We will not directly address that.
During tornado season, we determined primary and secondary meeting points should our house be hit. The first one was about a mile away and the second was about two. This was to insure that if the house was hit and cars were damaged, walking would be a very easy option. I would also recommend to consider problems with the rally point. For a flood it is obvious to choose higher ground, but what about a tornado? One consideration for me was to choose a point north and west of my house. Tornados in this part of the country tend to come west to east or SW to NE. This is to avoid both your house and rally point both being taken out. RP #1 is northwest, and RP #2 is almost directly north. Learn your region and apply it to your situation.
My wife and I also carry walkie-talkies and cell phones during storms when we are apart. As expected, cell phone use was not available for many hours after the disaster. Text messaging seemed to works some, but it did not at ground zero. Our wifi worked at the house so out of town family and friends could still text/email/social network us. The secondary plan was not carried out due to us all being ok, however it would have been nice to have while away.
Because we had days notice that storms would pop up, I went and took the kids out of school early as soon as the radar began to light up. Not as early as my wife wanted me to, but I will listen to her next time! This delay meant I was away from the storm shelter when the storm hit. Trying to avoid a tornado in a car is extremely dangerous!! Trying to figure out exactly where the tornado will go is impossible. Many in Oklahoma do this now, and I do not blame them one bit when the television tells us to get underground for this storm. If you do not have a shelter, what other options do you have? This can and has worked for many, but being in a car when the tornado hits is almost certain death. The cars we saw had every window broken, and one car had a 2x4 impaled directly into the passenger seat. If you do decide to leave, do it early!
What worked for me was the kids monitored the texts from mother while I drove. We also listened to local radio stations broadcast the wall to wall television feed to help pinpoint the danger areas. The fact that I had a full tank of gas, and on an interstate, I just drove east. If I had to go all the way to Arkansas, I could have done so to avoid the storm. This worked well until the traffic stopped (This was a major problem in the May 31st storms!). Bumper to bumper. I was not going to be a sheep and just sit in line and risk injury to myself and kids. I remembered a previous SurvivalBlog post about how to escape a mall shooting by looking official and going through the back hallways. I pulled off on the shoulder and took the next exit heading more north and west. Having a 4x4 truck, I considered going off road, but with several days of recent heavy rains, I did not want risk it if I did not have too. I finally headed more west and found out the storm was past our house. Now the challenge was getting home. In a large long track tornado like this one, crossing the path is impossible even on interstates. This was true for both north south highways in the Oklahoma City area. Because I was familiar with many back roads, I was able to get home very easy and avoided all the sheep on the main highways.
In the hours/days after, the interstates were reopened, but sometimes backed up 6 miles or more.
After a few hours of door to door searches, I was back home and glad to have the generator going, but now my house was a beacon of light among the dark houses. I was able to turn off most of the lights, draw the blinds, and try to be just a regular house. The one thing I could not cover was the noise of the generator. I was fortunate to have about three or four other neighbors close with the same hum or growl, and I hoped since my lights were off, I would blend in. Be sure to check other things outside to turn off that are not needed. I did walk around the house and remembered the fountain was running and shut that off.
RESPONSE OF THE COMMUNITY
I could go on and on about the heroic efforts of Fire, EMS, Police, and medical responders. They all did an excellent job! Command posts were set up, ambulances were abundant, destroyed hospitals still set up triage areas, heavy equipment brought in, crowd control, all functioned well.
Also excellent response was also done by churches, and even local retail stores. One local big store even opened its doors and gave away whatever people needed that night! By the next AM, supplies were brought in by numerous individuals. Some brought cash, some drove from other states just to donate a case or two of water! Others brought commercial grills and provided hamburgers free to anyone at a local church! Another local community brought two school buses packed full of supplies from water, to diapers, to work gloves to canned foods. I was also impressed that local grocery stores had palate after palate of water, batteries and food moved up to the front of the store ready to go. Did you notice all the references to God and prayer in the television interviews? Not just words, but faith with action!
We did have a few looters in the days after, but I was glad to see a large police presence. I did see one military person during my door to door searches who was openly carrying on his property. I was also glad to see the police not even question him about it. I asked one cop if he would have said anything if he had an AR slung over his back. He said, "No. His property, he can do whatever he wants." When rumors swirled about forcing people out of slightly damaged portions of the neighborhoods, the police were knowledgeable and said they could not force people out unless martial law was enforced. Most police said they would not force them out. Many tornado survivors decided to put up tents and stay the night on their property to protect it. Not sure what I would have done, but the smell of natural gas was significant and I am not sure how safe it was.
As Rahm Emanuel once said, "Never let a crisis go to waste. " I know Mr. Emanuel meant this to push for more government, but I see this as a chance to learn and fine tune my plans. I was very thankful for the supplies I had, but discovered some problems.
My water was adequate, but my backup plan of using the pool water was somewhat viable if I had to boil the water, but due to the large amount of debris thrown by the tornado into the pool, this would require a large scale filter of the water before even boiling. Next step for me is going to be a water filter. Grade of B- for water. Food was not an issue. Grade A
Travel was A-. I did well with getting the kids out early, not coming home, adjusting the plan on the fly, and having secondary routes planned out by local knowledge but this could have easily become a C or worse if I had waited longer, or been stuck in traffic. I can not emphasize enough how travel is disrupted during these long track tornados. As stated in the previous article, both north/south interstates were blocked for hours. Consider driving 10-20 miles parallel to the track and than consider crossing. The length of this tornado caused 12 miles of blocked N/S roads!
Communication is a C. Primary route of cell phone/text failed (somewhat expected) and the backup plan was not initiated. My wife knew where I was, but wondered when I would be back. CB radios may be added and carried.
House is a B+. Generator worked flawlessly, but hiding the noise is a problem I do not know how to solve.
Community response. A+. This plan worked well for this disaster, but not sure how generous everyone will be when no one has water or food. I do see the church as a great asset should Schumer happen, but I realize this is not likely to last long term either.
Just a few other points. I do know FEMA was there the next day, but they were already dwarfed by the community and other volunteers who can immediately step up and help. The last thing is related to storm shelters. If you live in tornado alley, you should have one or know someone who will let you in theirs. Also each town has shelter registries, but I never saw one and it was not utilized. When going door to door, we relied on neighbors knowing about shelters, where they were and if the homeowners were home or had fled. I will add a hammer to my shelter so I can make some noise for the boots on the ground folks to hear me. One of my LEO friends had a good idea to paint a tornado symbol or write "storm shelter" on the curb by the house number to help us look for folks.
Lessons learned, don't rely on the government (obviously), talk to your neighbors so the know where shelters are, and begin with basic prepping NOW!
I welcome your comments! Thank you and God Bless! - TornadoDoc
P.S. After the May 31st storms, many Okies did try to flee and this created massive traffic congestion. This makes the recommendation to leave early all the more important. I was on the road during this storm also (on the way to work). Family wanted me to stay at home, but I left as the El Reno storm was touching down. I choose the most eastern route north, and avoided the sheep. Had I waited later, I may have never made it to work. This storm produced lots of flooding. Six inches at my house! Park in a safe place and wait a few hours.