EDMOND — When international students arrive at the University of Central Oklahoma, they often express concern about taking up their studies in tornado alley.
The school’s international services and emergency management teams work together during orientation to ease the stress.
“UCO provides severe weather areas for UCO faculty, students and staff and those engaged in campus activities at the time of severe weather,” said Norman Nieves, emergency management director. “That means if you’re on campus and we have severe weather, we have certain areas you can go to to seek refuge.”
Lonneke van Dam, a student from the Netherlands, said she still worries about what to do if she is off campus but knows what to do if she is on campus in the event of severe weather.
“First thing when you come here, they tell you what to do when a tornado comes, but they only explain what to do when you’re on campus,” van Dam said. “I know when I’m in my building, I know to go to the library, because my building does not have a storm shelter.”
UCO has nine primary severe weather shelter areas on campus: the basements of the Nigh University Center, Thatcher Hall, Liberal Arts building, Max Chambers Library, Communications building, Murdaugh Hall, Art and Design building, Howell Hall and Central Plaza.
There are 20,000 people who make up UCO’s population, and Nieves said there are typically about 8,500 people on campus at a time.
“Can we shelter all of those in our primaries? No, but we also have numerous secondary severe weather areas spread out throughout the campus,” Nieves said. “Those are all on first floors, and they’re typically interior-type rooms.”
Who can take shelter?
Nieves said he thinks there has been a rumor spreading that UCO acts as a public storm shelter.
“We’re not, and there are a number of reasons,” Nieves said. “The primary one is staffing — we just don’t have the staff to go around and open every single one of our severe weather areas in times of crisis.”
The second big reason is liability, he said.
But Nieves said UCO officials do not have time during severe weather to check for UCO identification cards. “If you happen to be on campus, you’re a visitor, come on in,” he said.
“I feel confident in what we have set up,” Nieves said. “I feel we are as prepared as we can be.”