The Ottumwa Courier

Ottumwa

May 22, 2013

Tornado creates local questions

OTTUMWA — If there's a tornado in Wapello County, where would I go afterwards? It isn't hard to understand why local callers are asking Wapello County Emergency Management that question.

Josh Stevens, emergency coordinator for the county, said since the aftermath of the Oklahoma tornado has been shown, "I've gotten inquiries. Obviously we can't stop a tornado from hitting a town, but there are things we can all do to minimize the damage."

He explained that when and other emergency response planners talk about reducing the amount of damage, they're talking about lives, not property.

"Our best defense ... is a weather radio. If we learn there's a storm in Centerville with a history of producing tornadoes, and that it's moving northeast, that information is a good identifier," he said.

Before the arrival of severe weather, checking the National Weather Service radar can be helpful, too, he said. The NWS is a lot more accurate than in the past, he said, as they hand down real-time information that they are constantly updating. They've also tightened up the area they declare a warning for, Stevens said, to avoid the "cry wolf" syndrome, where residents hear about a danger so often that, since the danger never materializes, they start to ignore the warnings.

"They [avoid] saying that there's a severe thunderstorm warning for Wapello County. You'd have 60 mph winds in Eldon, and people out in Eddyville mowing their lawns. They'll call a warning for the Eldon area," he said.

Most of the questions Stevens has received have been about where to go after a tornado: where the nearest shelters are to the caller's home. The answer: Shelters are always changing.

"We partner with the Red Cross," said Stevens. "They have the vetted list."

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