Severe weather safety tips for Sill residents
March 15, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- Did you know Fort Sill has been very lucky when it comes to tornados? In fact, the last documented tornado to hit post was in the late 1990s.
Tornados are only part of the story when preparing for severe weather in Southwest Oklahoma. Severe thunderstorms can unleash torrential downpours causing flash flooding, frequent lightning strikes and even worse, baseball-size and larger hail.
However, as newscasts have shown in the past few years, tornados can be especially deadly and destructive. Although one hasn't touched down on post in more than a decade, we've had several close calls. The massive tornado that ripped through Oklahoma City in May 1999, started just east of Fort Sill and north of Elgin. Last year, a tornado did pass through Chickasha June 1. That funnel cloud started southeast of post.
While tornados are deadly acts of nature that are wildly unpredictable, we try our hardest to give you as much advanced warning as possible before a storm hits.
Keep an eye out
First of all, you need to educate yourself. Many of our Soldiers, family members and civilian employees may be in Tornado Alley for the first time. Know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.
Watch: A severe thunderstorm or tornado WATCH means conditions exist that could lead to the specified severe weather. The weather events might or might not happen.
Warning: A severe thunderstorm or tornado WARNING means the severe weather event is happening at that moment and precautions need to be taken, right now.
You should pay attention to what's happening outside. If clouds are rolling in and you hear thunder, you might want to check and see if the local television station KSWO (Channel 7) has any weather bulletins. If the weather grows more severe, keep the weather on to keep current. I've heard that sometimes, local channels go out on some cable or satellite systems. Weather reports can also be heard on local radio stations like KLAW 101.3, KZCD 94.1, KCCU 89.3, KMGZ, 95.1 and KJMZ 98.1 to name a few. And, the Fires Center of Excellence Strategic Communications and Public Affairs offices try to keep emergency situations updated on the post website and Facebook pages.
A battery operated radio, a flashlight and a cell phone can be lifesavers in a weather emergency.
On post warnings
The National Weather Service, which happens to be headquartered in Norman, Okla., issues all weather advisories across the nation.
When the NWS issues a watch, the Fort Sill Emergency Operations Center recalls all post weather forecasters, and will notify every Fort Sill employee at their work station by phone, which is a new procedure. They will also send out an email and let the STRATCOM office and public affairs office know so they can put it on the Fort Sill websites and social media site.
In the event of a warning, the same notifications will be made, plus the electronic siren on the Giant Voice alert system will sound a continuous wail for one minute and 20 seconds followed by a voice explaining what the warning is and to take shelter immediately.
The Fort Sill siren will not sound unless there is a tornado warning. In the past, the city of Lawton has sounded their sirens for high winds and large hail on separate occasions. Sirens are NEVER used to signal all-clear.
Giant Voice is tested every week, so if you find you can't hear it or can't understand what is being said, please submit an ICE comment and we'll make sure it gets to the right people.
I know there is some concern about how to take shelter from a severe storm.
If you are home, get everyone to a central part of the house, away from windows and outside doors. Using a mattress and or blankets for cover is also a good idea. More people are injured from debris during a storm than from the storm itself. A bathtub is a good place to shelter down if possible, as long as it's in interior room and not along an outside wall.
When the sirens sound, don't worry about grabbing food, photo albums or other things. Just get to a safe area, hopefully with a flashlight and a cell phone. Of course, if this happens during the day, you should know bad weather is possible and can be prepared.
Fort Sill has two certified shelters: Reynolds Army Community Hospital and Snow Hall, Building 730.
Snow Hall construction in the basement is still in progress, but the basemen area is completely accessible.
However, any building can be a shelter as long as you remember to move to the lowest, central part of the building.
Other sheltering buildings are:
Mobilization Barracks, Building 1643, Randolph Road next to Nye Library; and Single Soldier Quarters, Building 912, Randolph Road across from DENTAC.
Many Picerne Military Housing units have basements. Let me remind all Fort Sill residents that the quarters you are living in are owned by the government. According to the Fort Sill Severe Weather Operations Plan, during an emergency situation, each on-post family is required to open their government quarters for use by other Fort Sill residents and provide shelter during severe weather watches and warnings. This applies to family quarters with basements or safe rooms, providing shelter to neighbors without basements or safe rooms and installation organizations allowing Fort Sill personnel to take shelter in their basements.
Please stay on good terms with your neighbors. Also, it bears repeating that you need to keep an eye on what's going on weather wise and if the forecast calls for severe weather, you'll want to clean out the safe room you've been using for extra storage so you can get your family in there, along with anyone seeking shelter.
I'm not trying to scare you into thinking every cloud or thunderstorm has a tornado in it this time of year. However, large hail and damaging winds are more than enough reason to seek shelter until weather conditions improve.
You are a vital component to the Fort Sill mission, and I do want you to be prepared in case those sirens sound and Giant Voice tell you to find shelter.