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Oklahoma City mayor's task force on severe weather safety to meet

Since May's deadly tornadoes, focus has been on safety in schools. But Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has asked members of a new task force to examine options in regard to community safety during severe weather.
by William Crum Modified: July 9, 2013 at 10:12 pm •  Published: July 10, 2013

A tornado expert said knowing the extent of the threat should help guide deliberations of a task force that will consider ways to enhance public safety when severe weather strikes.

Harold Brooks is a member of the panel, formed by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett after the May 20 tornado that killed 24 people in Oklahoma City and Moore.

The EF5 tornado destroyed 1,200 homes and two elementary schools. Seven third-graders died when walls collapsed at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore.

The group's first meeting is at 3 p.m. Wednesday in the mayor's conference room at City Hall.

The nine task force members are to receive an overview of Oklahoma City's response to May's severe weather. A discussion of enhancing public safety is to follow.

“I'm going to try to provide a broad view of things that's perhaps a little bit detached from the emotional response of what happened in May,” said Brooks, a research meteorologist at the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman.

Much of the focus has been on school safety after the deaths at Plaza Towers, though tornadoes also claimed lives the previous day, and tornadoes and flooding caused by torrential rains added to the death toll on May 31.

It is “incumbent on us” to provide schools that are safe, Janet Barresi, a task force member and the state's superintendent of public instruction, said Tuesday.

She observed the heroism of teachers who protected their children as tornadoes struck and advocated a review of school buildings so that district superintendents and board members can draft local plans for facilities that are “reliable and very, very safe.”

Barresi noted not all parents can retrieve their children when weather turns threatening.

“We need to make sure we have the ability to protect children whose parents can't come to get them,” she said.

Cornett has said he wants the group to look “from every possible angle to make sure we are doing what is right and appropriate to safeguard our community and our schools.”

Maximum impact

Brooks said he hoped the group's efforts could lead to policies that could “maximize the impact for whatever dollars are available to be spent.”

The seven deaths at Plaza Towers brought to 13 the number of people ever killed — 12 children and one teacher — in Oklahoma schools, during school hours, by tornadoes, Brooks said.

The number includes five children and a teacher killed in November 1930 in Bethany, he said.

A schoolchild was killed in 1944 during basketball practice in Granite, and a tornado killed three in 1945 in a dormitory at a state school for the blind in Muskogee, he said.

In Oklahoma and Cleveland counties, 90 percent of tornadoes occur outside school hours, Brooks said.

The panel includes Cornett and Pete White and David Greenwell, who are members of the Oklahoma City Council.

State Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City, is a member, as are Glenn Short, of Frankfurt-Short-Bruza architects and engineers, and Xavier Neira, of Manhattan Construction. Harold Roberts, of ASTEC Charter Schools, also was expected to take part.

The panel plans to meet again July 24.

by William Crum
OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in Norman.
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