The Ottumwa Courier

Wapello County

May 22, 2013

Tornado creates local questions

(Continued)

That means the potential shelters have been researched to meet requirements, including being usable by people who have disabilities. So there are good shelters available. But the shelters that are usable can change, so issuing a "list" to the public just doesn't make sense, Stevens said.

"It's [also] highly situational," he added.

A possible shelter right near one's home may not be activated because debris on the streets makes it hard to reach. Another shelter across town may be the more accessible one. Or a school used in a different emergency may have been fine that time, but wrong next time. Another building may have no power or water.

"We recommend the public tunes in to local media," Stevens said.

Don't worry if the power is out. Stevens said planners have come up with multiple ways to get the word out. Media will be updated, including radio, TV and newspapers. So, too, will social media, like the city of Ottumwa website. And media outlets have their own websites. If your power is out, get some shelter updates on your car radio, Stevens suggested. Many cell phones have access to the Internet, so that's another way to get information. Even with power out, most cell phones can easily be charged during a drive.

There are other ideas, too. Emergency personal out in a disaster may know where a shelter is, and if they don't, Stevens said, they'll typically have a two-way radio. With his connection to state resources, he can bring in equipment like the portable information station. That's a self-powered radio station, with a sign telling motorists what station to tune to. On that station, it plays a recorded message. And Stevens has thought about contacting area businesses, to see if they'd consider allowing emergency crews to communicate with the public via the tall electric signs in front of some of them.

But the last piece of equipment for getting information is actually the first piece of safety gear Stevens recommended, the weather radio, which has a battery backup. Emergency management personal can record a message with information updates, and the National Weather Service will play the message across area weather radios.

To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark.

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