Maud, Oklahoma, will be better prepared if it gets visited by a tornado this year, thanks to a March 12 Town Hall Meeting organized by the American Red Cross in partnership with the Maud emergency manager. Residents got to eat pizza and hear their local emergency and city personnel outline response activities, resources and vulnerabilities if an emergency really were to strike this former boomtown of 800 that quietly straddles the Pottawatomie-Seminole County line southeast of Shawnee.
One couple who recently relocated from California is probably sleeping better already. They’ve survived earthquakes, wildfires and know the importance of being prepared. But they’ve never been through a tornado. However, their Town Hall questions sparked some of the best conversations of the evening—
What’s the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?
If the siren goes off, should we get in our car and drive away?
How do we keep our pets and livestock safe?
Not only did they get a roomful of great answers, they got their first taste of the now-famous “Oklahoma Standard.” After mentioning not having a storm shelter of their own, a fellow resident approached them after the meeting and offered to share his cellar if they need a safe place to go.
Community gatherings like this – bringing experts together with those who need to know – are an excellent resiliency-building tool for small rural towns. They’ve also become something of a specialty for Susan Morris, who works in Shawnee as a Community Recovery & Resiliency Specialist with the Oklahoma May 2013 storms Long-Term Recovery Project. This was her third Town Hall hosted in Pottawatomie County, and her second one in Maud, specially requested by its new EM after a successful meeting there two years ago.
Drawing on her experience with tabletop exercises, Susan invites local emergency response panelists and citizens and walks them through a hypothetical storm scenario to help pinpoint readiness strengths and challenges unique to their community.
The goals are simple—
• To empower community members to participate in their own readiness planning and
• To identify concrete resources, gaps and action steps to help the community respond and recover more quickly from disaster.
The focus is always on solutions—
• The woman interested in livestock and pet safety is being introduced to Pottawatomie County’s Saving Pets at Risk (SPAR), which may evolve into a local animal rescue team.
• A Maud public works employee identified three LED signs that could be turned into ad hoc community bulletin boards following a disaster.
• South Central/Southeast Oklahoma disaster program specialist Alie Newby offered Red Cross shelter and volunteer training as a vehicle for increasing whole community preparedness and ability to work together during disasters – not just a way to “serve the Red Cross.”
• Another panelist from a nearby hospital was so impressed by the quality of information shared, he wants to take part in even more grassroots sessions like this in the future. He appreciated being on the panel and talked about the importance of networking with partners every chance he gets.
By the end of the night, Maud’s emergency manager had only one regret; he wished even more folks had been on hand to join the discussion. Susan responded in typical Red Cross fashion:
“If we’ve helped even one person be more safe and prepared this season, it’s worth it.”
Judging by the reaction of our new friends from California, it’s already been more than worth it. Waaaay more.
(For more tips from Susan on how to offer a Town Hall Meeting in your area, contact her at (405) 464-2553)
Be sure to download the free Red Cross preparedness apps. Visit www.redcross.org/mobileapps for a complete list of available apps in English and Spanish.