Amidst COVID-19 concerns, Oklahomans have another concern this time of year — tornado season.
For those who typically take cover in public storm shelters or generously invite neighbors to share their own, what is the proper protocol during a time of social distancing?
Wes Lee, Oklahoma State University Extension assistant specialist with the Oklahoma Mesonet, said there are no definitive answers.
Lee suggested members of every household take time to customize and implement emergency management at home before it is needed. Have a home emergency plan, he said, and prepare the home for likely threats Oklahoma faces every year, especially at the beginning of tornado season.
“Right now, where you choose to shelter and with whom is an individual decision based on underlying health and the expected severity of the tornado risk,” Lee said. “Therefore, the answer is going to be different for each individual during each storm occurrence.
“However, my recommendation during this period of continued community spread of COVID-19 is to shelter for tornadoes at home, preferably in a storm shelter or basement. For those who live in manufactured housing or on an upper floor in an apartment building, you must seek shelter elsewhere.”
For those without a shelter at home, Lee recommended sheltering with a close neighbor who is open to the idea. If that is not possible, he recommends getting to the lowest level interior room or closet, staying close to the floor and taking cover under blankets and pillows. He also suggested wearing a bicycle helmet, long pants, long sleeves and sturdy shoes.
Gina Peek, OSU Extension housing and consumer specialist, said it is important for everyone to have an emergency preparedness kit that can be grabbed easily and taken to the shelter.
“Obvious items to include are medications, a flashlight, extra batteries, a battery powered weather radio and some nonperishable foods,” Peek said. “But in light of the pandemic we’re in, you also should include masks, tissues, disposable gloves and hand sanitizer. It’s also a good idea to include a plastic bag to dispose of used tissues.”
Should anyone in the shelter cough or sneeze, Peek said the person should do so in a tissue or in the sleeve of the long-sleeved shirt they are wearing.
Oklahomans have learned to prepare for storm season and other emergencies, so the COVID-19 pandemic should not be that different, Lee said.
“Safety is the main ingredient in being prepared for a storm. With the situation we currently are in, you must take a few extra precautions,” he said.