Our hearts go out to everyone who was affected by the recent tornadoes in the Midwest. Out of respect for the victims, we will not include my usual fire dog-isms in this post.
Since a category EF5 tornado ripped through several Midwestern states this May, leaving devastated communities (most severely in Moore, Oklahoma) in its wake, reporters en masse have questioned the higher than average natural disaster rate in Oklahoma. ABC7 News, in fact, went so far as to call Oklahoma “Disaster Central.” A writer with the StarTribune called the state “the Bull’s Eye for awful tornadoes.” And FEMA ranks Oklahoma No. 1 in tornados, No. 3 in floods.
According to a story in The Denver Post, the long-time Director of Emergency Management in Oklahoma, Albert Ashwood, has overseen 36 major disasters during his 25-year tenure with the state. The tornado was the 74th presidential disaster declared in the Sooner State in the past 60 years. Also noteworthy:
- Only much-larger and more-populous California and Texas have had more.
- According to FEMA records, when disaster declarations are measured on a per-person basis, Oklahoma gets nearly three times the national average.
- When disaster figures are computed based on how much land is in a state, OK gets twice the national average.
The reason for Oklahoma’s tendency toward disaster is owed mainly to atmospheric conditions, which position it right in the middle of Tornado Alley…the cluster of states in the nation’s midsection which are particularly prone to twisters. Another explanation for Oklahoma’s role as Disaster Central is urban sprawl, which puts more people in the path of disasters. Moore has 56,000 people. As more such suburbs pop up, the chances of homes being hit increases.
Since Oklahoma has been especially hard-hit in recent years, experts in emergency management say Emergency Manager Albert Ashwood’s experience and innovative thinking have helped ease recovery efforts in Oklahoma.
“(Ashwood’s know-how) makes all the difference,’ said Trina Sheets, executive director of the National Emergency Management Association. “Disaster victims can be assured he understands everything that needs to be done for recovery.’” As a result of Ashwood’s experience, search-and-rescue teams were quickly deployed, demonstrating that Oklahoma was well prepared.
Since Ashwood is arguably the most experienced emergency managers in U.S. history, we can learn a few things about disaster preparation and recovery from him:
- A good emergency manager is more of a coordinator than a first responder.
- Readiness will result in the quick deployment of search-and-rescue teams.
- A well-prepared emergency manager won’t run around like a chicken with his head cut off. Ashwood is well respected among emergency management professionals.
- A well-prepared community will rebound. Oklahoma is the leading state when it comes to safe rooms, which probably saved lives in Moore, according to FEMA.
- When federal aid comes quickly, so does recovery. ABC reports that several disaster experts say Oklahoma is particularly adept at working the bureaucracy to obtain federal aid.
- Total recovery requires help from private sector investment in disaster risk management. For our part, the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services is committed to equipping people to prepare for disaster. We’ve learned that prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. So we have created an interactive, building-specific e-learning training system which motivates and rewards tenants instantly!
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