First of All
My family and I are fine. I’d like to thank all the people who reached out to check on me. For those who don’t know, I live in Oklahoma. In fact, I was in New Jersey on a business trip when the big tornado hit on Monday, May 20, 2013. The day before, Sunday, tornados raged through Oklahoma and like many Oklahomans, I watched on TV as they moved across Oklahoma–within a mile or two of my work, within a mile of where my brother was working, within 2 miles of where my sister lives, within a mile and a half of where my other brother lives. We checked with each other by phone as the storms moved across the middle of the state. We did what we do in Oklahoma. We closed the drapes, made sure we knew where the flashlights were, put the cars in the garages and knew where we would go (our safe place) if the storm came close. In Oklahoma we know the weather broadcasters by their first names. We know the name of the helicopter they use when tornadoes come. We know the names of the vehicles that the storm chasers use. We (all of us–the broadcasters, storm chasers, helicopter pilots, and TV and radio audiences) track these storms block by block. They tell us what minute the storm will be at what intersection. When the storm gets close, we go to the place that we have determined is the safest place in our homes, and we wait for the storm to do what it is going to do.
Have a Plan
This is not a passive reaction. This is a proactive process that involves all of us. There is a plan in place. There is a complicated and detailed process to get the information to us about when to take action. We do not mess around. I was in an office building in Cincinnati once when the storm alarms went off. Everyone just kept working. I started to get up to go someplace safe but I came back. I couldn’t go without at least trying to get others to come with me. I went to the closest high-ranking person and asked if we shouldn’t get moving to the center of the building. Then I went to another person. And another. They uniformly had the same reaction–they were amused by me, they told me that it was ‘just’ a thunderstorm, and that no one ever went to the center of the building. I gave up. I went to the center of the building and waited. They were right. Nothing happened. The storm passed and I learned later that in Cincinnati they sound the alarm whether it is a severe storm or a tornado. From an Oklahoman’s perspective–this is nuts. People need to know when a tornado is coming, they need to not be confused with mixed signals, and they need to proceed to the safest place. Oklahomans know what to do. People are amazed that there were so few fatalities in the big Oklahoma tornado. There were 24 too many fatalities, but there were not hundreds of fatalities because Oklahomans know what to do and THEY DO IT.
Sometimes It’s Different
Sometimes the situation is different. Sometimes what is happening is bigger, worse than even your best plan. That is what happened on Monday, May 20. This storm was unprecedented. The broadcasters knew it. Lots of Oklahomans knew it. Very few of us had ever heard the weather broadcaster who we listen to say that the only way to survive this storm was to get out. To leave. To get underground (only a small percentage of Oklahoma homes have basements or storm shelters) or to get out. People knew what that meant, too. It meant that this was bigger, beyond our standard ‘safe place’ plans. My sister was in the backroom of a restaurant. She was huddled with others doing what you do when a tornado is coming–waiting for it to do what it does. Then my nephew called her and asked where she was. When she told him, he told her that he was watching the radar–most Oklahomans have apps or access to watch the Dopplar radar of these storms–and that the storm was heading straight for her. He told her to get out. To drive south. (This is not normal advice–normally he would be relieved that she was appropriately sheltered and tell her he’d talk to her once the storm had passed.) She listened. She got in her car. She saw the terrifying tornado about half a mile away (the tornado itself was more than a mile WIDE, so that tells you how close it was) and she drove south. This is NOT what you normally do. In Oklahoma you know that being in a car is dangerous. You know that semis get blown all over the place and are dangerous to be near. They blow off overpasses (this happened the day before). The drivers lose control and become dangerous barriers in your way. Sometimes, though, what is dangerous is LESS dangerous and you just have to do it.
Have a Plan, Execute It
There are thousands of stories from the storm this week. People clearly did what they had to do to survive. They KNEW what to do. Many, many people owe their lives to the superior weather reporting that happens in Oklahoma. They owe their lives to people who shared shelters and coolers (like at my brother’s store). They owe their lives to teachers to protected them. They owe their lives to having a plan and not hesitating about putting it into place.
Help Each Other
As the stories unfold from the tornado, there are so many stories of people helping people. People reaching out and doing what they can. Some of the unpublicized stories are what corporations are doing to help people. Because I have an Oklahoma address, I’ve gotten emails from companies reaching out to me as a customer. The company I work for has taken action to help Oklahoma with its resources and to reach out to employees who are affected. (Makes me so proud!!) Our Oklahoma basketball hero, Kevin Durant, gave $1 million to help. Even though I was not directly affected by this tornado, I’m so grateful to each and every person and corporation who has helped.
So Where is the Metaphor
Tornadoes are rare events. Except in Oklahoma. Except in Moore. The lessons though–know what to expect, have a plan, have ways to get the information you need, don’t hesitate to act, know when you adjust your plan–apply to most of the things in our lives.
Blessings to All Those Affected by the Oklahoma Tornadoes This Spring
If you have the ability to help, the American Red Cross is always there for the victims of tornadoes (and other disasters). I recommend giving them some help to help others.