Emergency Siren System in Oklahoma Saved Lives and Why Many Dont Have Basements

Massive piles of debris cover the ground after a powerful tornado ripped through the area on May 20, 2013 in Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado, reported to be at least EF4 strength and two miles wide, touched down in the Oklahoma City area on Monday killing at least 51 people. (Photo: Brett Deering/Getty Images)

Although the death toll has hit 24 — including 7 children — as a result of Monday’s EF4 tornado that passed over Moore, Oklahoma, Monday, the emergency siren system in Oklahoma City’s metropolitan area helped warn thousands to take shelter.

The metropolitan area boasts a system of 181 emergency sirens, which were updated in 2002 in a $4.5 million project replacing Cold War-era sirens that at the time only stretched over the most densely populated areas, the city’s website stated. The coverage area of the new system is nearly four times more than the previous one, which had just 44 sirens.

Emergency Siren System in Oklahoma Saved Lives and Why Many Dont Have Basements

Location of sirens. (Image: OKC.gov)

The city’s website advises residents when they hear the siren, outside of a test, to turn on TV and radio for specific information.

Another War-era idea the city has begun to replace are public shelters for storm protection. It says that driving to a shelter during extreme weather can pose a greater risk to residents and it notes emergency experts now advising they “shelter in place” when told to take cover.

Although taking shelter underground is preferable during a tornado event, most Oklahoma homes actually don’t have basements or cellars. An Associated Press article published after the deadly May 3, 1999, tornado, to which many are comparing the May 20, 2013, twister, reported that many people aren’t building these underground structures due to cost and soil conditions.

According to the report, much of the ground is red clay that expands and contracts with moisture. To accommodate this, building a home with a basement costs between $30,000 to $40,000 extra. One home builder at the time said he had only built one basement in the area in 23 years.

“I’m kind of guessing that if today we advertised basements that we’d be busy for the next year building them,” homebuilder Roger Despain said in 1999. “I think I’m going to build me one after last night.”

During live reports Monday after the storm, most residents told local news stations they had taken shelter in their bathroom or a closet.

Those in schools are moved to the lowest level of a permanent structure into a room or hallway with no windows where they assume the position on the ground with their head down and hands covering the back of their neck. Moore’s city manager told ABC News schools in the area don’t have tornado shelters.

Featured image via Shutterstock.com.

(H/T: Business Insider)

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