20-40-60 Etiquette: Hard question for shelter owners

20-40-60 Etiquette talks about hosting pets and extra people in storm shelters during a tornado, with Business Editor Don Mecoy as guest.
by Helen Ford Wallace and Lillie-Beth Brinkman and Callie Gordon Published: June 23, 2013
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QUESTION: What is storm shelter etiquette? Are you obligated to invite the neighbors, even if you have a small shelter that only holds six? What if you don't have room? Is it OK to bring pets? Guests? Is it proper etiquette to ask to join the neighbor's storm shelter if you don't have one? Can you turn people away?

CALLIE'S ANSWER: This question breaks my heart. First I want to say for all who have lost homes, schools and loved ones in the recent storms, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. That being said, cram that shelter with as many people as you can. Our animals are a part of our family, or at least our dog is. I would be devastated if my dog didn't get to come into the shelter with us.

We all need to have a safe tornado plan if one hits. Ask your neighbors, family, friends, schools, church and co-workers if they have room for your family. Know your options before the storm.

LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: This question made me think. We have dear neighbors who invited us, when we first moved in, to use theirs anytime, for which I am thankful. But then I never thought to ask any more questions in calmer times, like could we bring our dog? Will we all fit? Is there room for extra treasured items we can grab? And if they hadn't invited us, could we, in a moment of panic, go knock on their door?

First, I don't think my neighbors are obliged to invite us, although I'm glad they did. It's their shelter and they built it in the size they could afford to protect their own family, and it's important for us to have our own plan for riding out dangerous storms.

And when my kids and I needed it recently, we didn't think twice about bringing our dog — another family member — with us. Only later did I realize that we should have asked first, although no one minded her presence, since they all brought theirs, too. So we gathered in our neighbors' storm shelter, with kids of all ages (mostly our neighbors' grandchildren and great-grandchildren but others from nearby as well), adults and about four or five dogs. I enjoyed meeting everyone, and we fit just fine as we sat through recent storms. Only once did we really have to close the cellar door briefly, when the May 19 tornadoes hit Edmond neighborhoods about a half mile away.

It didn't occur to me right then, as invited guests of the storm shelter, that “more isn't always merrier.” But since then, I've asked those neighbors some of those questions about what we can bring. I also have briefly checked with them again to make sure they felt like they still had room to include us as their own family has grown to include new children, and I will revisit that. I imagine that none of us would want to turn anyone away under extreme circumstances, but I understand that it's a privilege to have one to go to, and I wouldn't want to abuse it.

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by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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by Lillie-Beth Brinkman
Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman
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by Callie Gordon
Freelance Writer
Callie Gordon, a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, is working at Chesapeake Energy in the Environment, Health, and Safety Department. She was previously an event coordinator for Chesapeake Energy.
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