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April 29, 1995

Here's a quick quiz: (A) In case Perry has a tornado alert, where is our designated community shelter? (B) Where would YOU go for safety? (C) How would you get information about the storm? (D) Who is the Perry Civil Defense director?

The answers are: (A) The Noble county courthouse. (B) A cellar or basement would be best; a good alternative would be a centrally located bathroom or closet in your house. (C) Our local radio station KASR (1020 AM, 105.1 FM) would be used to provide storm information for the public. (D) David Henry. If you had the correct answers, you're smarter than the average citizen, I suspect.

David Henry, assistant fire chief, has been Perry's CD director for several years, but like everyone who deals with emergencies he worries that the people he serves are woefully uninformed. If a funnel cloud should drop down on Perry, that lack of information could turn a serious situation into a full-scale disaster. I spent a few minutes with Dave the other day and he shared some things that all of us should know, like the basic information above. Perry's storm warning system has come a long way since the days of the steel 'Fraidy Hole tower erected here some 40 years ago.

Perry's Civil Defense team consists of the fire department, police department, Noble county sheriffs department, Oklahoma highway patrol, and the police and sheriffs reserves. Henry coordinates the storm watch network as CD director. "Normally the local storm watch is not activated unless the National Weather Service issues a warning for this immediate area," Dave says. "A tornado warning or severe storm warning obviously is cause for alarm. Heavy thunderstorms are a part of Oklahoma weather and we usually keep an eye to the sky until they pass."

April, May and June are the worst months for tornadoes. The worst time of day is late afternoon from 3 to 7 p.m., but keep in mind that tornadoes can occur at any time of the day or night and at any time of year.

Perry's CD team works closely with the National Weather Service and the Oklahoma City TV stations when alerts are issued. Gary England of channel 9 is especially helpful, Henry says, and he seems to have the best radar coverage for our area.

Local alert methods are a network of storm sirens at strategic locations throughout the community, including inside the main plant at the Charles Machine Works, Inc., where some 1,000 men and women are employed. A new siren has just been added in far north Perry and others are planned for the Sooners Corner and '89er areas on the west side. Sirens are sounded only if a tornado is actually spotted in our area, or if radar indicates circulation of a major nature in this immediate vicinity. The local CD team also has the capability of interrupting programming on any cable TV channel to provide warnings. You must be a cable TV customer to receive that signal, however.

During school hours, officials keep in close touch by phone with administrators and advise of any dangerous conditions that may be developing. All these methods rely on city electrical service, so in the event of a power failure the outlying sirens and the cable TV interrupt will not function. The main siren at the fire station should be functional because of a backup generator there.

It's a bad idea to wait for the sirens to sound before deciding where to go for shelter. Designate a place today for your family to seek shelter. As indicated earlier, a cellar or basement would be best, but a centrally located small room like a closet or bathroom would be the next best bet. Take blankets or a mattress to cover you. Mobile homes are not a good place to be, Dave says. The Noble county courthouse is a designated community storm shelter, but don't wait until the last minute to head there. An automobile is a poor place to be caught in a storm.

The national guard armory is the most likely gathering point for people displaced by storm damage. Red Cross and other services will be called upon to help feed and shelter the homeless. Debbie Beasley is Red Cross representative for this area and Dave says she is a hard worker and very capable.

Your storm emergency kit at home should include flashlights with fresh batteries and a battery-operated radio. Do not use candles because of possible gas leaks from ruptured lines. If Perry is struck by a tornado, chaos probably will reign for a while. Power most certainly will be off and communications will be very difficult. Emergency crews will be blocked by downed power lines and felled trees. People will be concerned about the safety and location of loved ones. Dave asks everyone's cooperation to make sure we don't add to the confusion. Stay away from damage areas unless you have a real purpose in being there. "Sightseers and looters will be dealt with harshly," he promises.

"As with most things, a little common sense goes a long way in bad weather," Henry notes. "With the new technology available to us, we should not be caught by surprise by Mother Nature. However, this is Oklahoma, and anything is possible." Our thanks to David Henry and the entire CD team here for their dedication to serving the public. Let's hope and pray that we never have to experience a tornado, but let's be prepared, just in case.