The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

April 26, 2014

Teaching storm preparedness: Local emergency management seeks to educate the public

ENID, Okla. — With severe storm season well under way, Enid and Garfield County Certified Emergency Management Director Mike Honigsberg wants everyone to prepare before a severe storm even strikes.

“The problem out there is the complacency of our people. You don’t have storms, you don’t think about it, so to speak,” he said. “The preparedness of it just doesn’t happen, and then all of the sudden, here comes a storm system. Boom. You weren’t ready.”

To help people prepare, Honigsberg said he re-wrote the county’s Family Preparedness Guide this year, with input from Vance Air Force Base, and has about 4,000 copies to distribute.

Family Preparedness Guide

The guides are free and are available and have been placed at the Emergency Management Office, Enid City Hall and the main lobby of the Garfield County Court House.

He said everyone needs to educate themselves about severe weather and know their plans prior to a storm’s arrival.

He also recommended everyone keep a severe weather kit that is tailored to their own needs.

“You have to evaluate for your own family and what you will need,” he said. There are many organizations, such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army, that have lists of items for kits. However, Honigsberg said different situations will denote different needs.

“You’ve got to keep in mind when you talk about water and food, that kind of a thing, what’s it going to take each person in your family to survive each day and multiply that by seven,” he said. “That’s what you’ll need in your kit.”

Honigsberg said he understands some folks cannot afford an extra week’s worth of food, and said a kit that lasts for several days will work as well.

Before a severe weather threat, Honigsberg said everyone should sign up for updates from the Garfield County Office of Emergency Management.

“All of these are free and one, or all, may save your life in times of severe conditions,” he said. “You will receive information as it happens, not after the fact.”

Anyone can sign up for text alerts from GCEM at www.nixle.com, or by texting their zip code to 888777 for SMS notifications.

“It’s important for people to prepare, or at least think about what they’re going to do, before the day of the storm,” Honigsberg said. “It’s just important that people prepare.”

During the last round of possible severe weather, the emergency management director said there were hundreds of calls from people asking what they should do about the storms.

“The last high-risk storm day we got over 300 calls here, and the 911 Center also got over 300 calls about what they should do,” he said. “We take so many calls in here (emergency management office) it is just unbelievable.”

He said severe storms such as those that struck Moore, El Reno and Woodward could just as easily strike Garfield County.

“People just need to prepare. We don’t know when the next big one is going to occur,” he said. “We don’t know when but it’s going to happen. It will happen. We just don’t know when it will happen.

“It is better to be prepared and ready to go, than be scrambling and trying to get to safety.”

When severe weather strikes, Honigsberg said local AM and FM radio stations will have the most up-to-date information about storms. He said in some situations, local radio stations may even broadcast from the Emergency Management Center.

“Do not depend on social media for critical weather information,” he warned.

He said most weather information services, such as the National Weather Service and his office, only will post on social media as time permits.

“When the storms are here we usually just don’t have to post,” he said. “The National Weather Service, they’ll out stuff on their social media as they have the time to do it. Otherwise, listen to your local FM stations.”

He said it is best to rely on information from organizations with the most accurate and up-to-date information. For example, Honigsberg said he relies on a network of highly trained storm spotters.

“We have around 170 or so spotters,” he said. “Our spotter network is highly trained and we’re going to certify about 103 of them this year through our certification program.”

Honigsberg said the spotter network activates whenever needed, and is entirely comprised of emergency services providers.

“Our people are not storm chasers, they’re storm spotters and observers,” he said.

Honigsberg emphasized his network of storm spotters is the most important part of the network.

“Everybody is trained, and as such they go where they have good visibility and they are not in imminent danger,” he said. “The beauty of them being out there is very simple: If we do have tornadic weather and a farm gets hit or a small town gets hit, we have emergency responders already out there.”

Honigsberg said his spotters are certified by the National Weather Service through storm-spotting classes he teaches with an NWS curriculum.

“We’ve never had a failure in activation in all the years I’ve been doing this, when it comes to everybody being there when needed,” he said. “I would not do this job if they were not there.

“They are the eyes and the ears of this office out in the field.”

He said an issue that often comes up is public storm shelters.

“I am totally against public shelters,” he said. “When the threat is approaching, everybody goes into the mental mode of ‘Oh my God, it can’t be happening here,’ so they go out and look.”

Honigsberg said most panic, and their minds go blank before coming to their senses and gathering up their family and pets.

“By the time they get everything squared away and get into the car, it’s too late. Now, they’re in traffic and trying to get to a ‘public shelter.’ Now they’re in their car and a car is the worst place to be in tornadic weather.”

He said the El Reno tornado last year was an example of just that.

“People have a tendency to wait too long. Major cities are shutting their shelters down because people wait too long,” he said. “They’re better off sheltering at home. People who sheltered at home, with a storm shelter or not, survived the Moore tornado. It’s a 50-50 chance.”

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