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OKC Council adopts new localized tornado siren policy

(Dec. 22, 2015) - Oklahoma City’s new tornado siren policy makes it more important than ever to immediately take shelter and get more information when you hear a siren.

The important new policy change, adopted Tuesday by the City Council, divides OKC into zones. When the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a tornado warning, only the sirens in zones covered by the warning will sound.

Residents and visitors don’t need to know what zone they’re in, only to immediately take shelter and get more information if they hear a siren. More information

Oklahoma City offers emergency alerts to people with hearing and vision disabilities

Oklahoma City residents with hearing disabilities, blindness and vision impairments can subscribe to get disaster information by text and email alerts at The subscriber-based service is free to Oklahoma City residents. The alert messages include information about the emergency and what actions to take. It is designed to respond primarily to “threat to life and property” events.


Signs of a Tornado

Tornado Safety


Shelter-in-place safest plan during tornado warnings

Shelter-in-place: that’s the recommendation of Oklahoma City Emergency Management whose advice to people is to shelter-in-place during tornado warnings.

Shelter-in-place means to take shelter where you are, remaining inside your home, workplace or a nearby building. Most homes provide adequate protection from 98 percent of Oklahoma’s tornados. People who live in trailers or manufactured homes should have a plan to seek shelter in a well- constructed building nearby.

An interior hallway or room without exterior windows and doors on the lowest level of your house is typically the safest place to be during a tornado. If you have a bicycle helmet, or any type of helmet, put it on. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes when you take cover. Shoes will protect your feet if you need to walk through debris.

People who live on the upper level of an apartment building should seek shelter in an apartment on the lowest level of the complex.

Your vehicle is one of the most dangerous places to be during a tornado. Find a business to shelter in. Never seek shelter underneath a bridge or overpass. If you are stranded outside, lie down in a ditch or low lying area away from your vehicle.

Personal preparedness limits risk and anxiety. The best thing residents can do to protect themselves against the impact of a tornado is install a safe room or storm shelter in their homes. These shelters are designed to give protection from the forces of extreme winds as high as 250 miles per hour.

Having a personal plan and staying informed are the two most critical elements in staying safe during severe weather.

Why doesn't Oklahoma City have public shelters?

The decision to not identify public storm shelters is not an easy one to make, but the overwhelming contradicting information is more than can be ignored. The rationale behind the decisions to not designate public buildings as storm shelters is outlined below.

Traveling to a Shelter
One of the biggest challenges with public storm shelters is that citizens must travel to a distant location during a severe weather event, exposing them to the very hazard they are attempting to avoid. Vehicles are NEVER a safe place during significant severe weather events. A significant number of tornado related deaths are attributed to being in a vehicle. On the other hand, standard residential construction (manufactured housing excluded) typically provides survivable protection for 98 percent of the tornados we experience in Oklahoma. IF those potentially impacted seek shelter early by moving to the lowest possible level in a small interior room or closet away from exterior openings such as doors or windows. The exceptions to this recommendation are those living in mobile homes and many manufactured structures. Those living in mobile homes and many manufactured structures MUST take shelter in a safe room or personal storm shelter (discussed below) or travel to a safer location well in advance of the storm’s arrival. Well constructed residential safe rooms or personal storm shelters provide the BEST protection against the impact of tornadoes, including those considered as extremely violent. These types of personal shelters provide the same, if not greater, protection than public storm shelters without the travel risk and other issues.

Shelter Capacity
Most local jurisdictions simply do not have access to enough readily available and functionally feasible sheltering locations to accommodate even a reasonably small percentage of their population. This often leads to people traveling to a public storm shelter site only to find the shelter is full putting themselves and their families at greater risk. Public storm shelters are not designed to protect thousands of citizens. If a jurisdiction were to try to construct and maintain sufficient space to protect even a majority of its population, the costs would be prohibitive.

Shelter Availability
The shelters may not always be open. In many instances, if they exist, local public storm shelters are either unstaffed or staffed by volunteers, volunteers that may not always be available. In other words, there might not be anyone available to open and manage the shelter. Even those shelters intended to be opened and operated by paid personnel may not always be open if those people are unavailable.

Shelter Construction
The shelter construction standards have evolved over the last several years as a result of thorough engineering tests. Many facilities designated as shelters in the past no longer meet the current FEMA shelter construction standards, nor do they meet the current Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance standards. Concerns of not providing adequate/ safe shelters also apply to well-meaning private property owners that offer their structures as shelters.

Shelter Rules, Risks and Liabilities
Many jurisdictions have determined that the risks and liabilities associated with providing and operating public storm shelters out-weigh the potential benefit; particularly when viewed with other factors including those listed above.

What is a tornado watch?

What is a tornado warning?

What to do after a tornado

Disasters and pets

To keep your companion animals safe during disasters we recommend planning ahead. Listed below are some tips to consider as part of your planning process: