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Norman Fire Chief Recommends "Shelter in Place" Tornado Plan

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

There are worries over emergency shelters just ahead of tornado season.

The Norman Fire Chief says your family could be safer staying at home than at that city's public storm shelters.

Right now there are four public shelters in Norman at schools with recreation centers at Whittier, Cleveland, Irving and Little Axe.

They've been used during severe weather for more than 30 years, but they're actually not certified tornado shelters, and Norman's fire chief is recommending an alternative to keep your family safe.

As a tornado tore across Oklahoma May 10, 2010, Cleveland County was one the hardest hit areas, especially the east side of Norman.

"For the past 35-plus years, we've offered storm shelters for the community," Norman Fire Chief James Fullingim says, "the reality is, these storm shelters require people to travel great distances many times, and once they've reached this facility, they've gotten to a facility that is no safer than a single family dwelling."

Norman Fire Chief James Fullingim says the city's public shelters were not designed to withstand the impact of a tornado, and that's not the only problem.

"A large congregation of people in one place is not a good idea. We have an overcrowding issue, which puts people stuck in the parking lot, and in most cases, wherever you came from is just as safe as these buildings," Chief Fullingim said.

He's recommending that families create a "shelter in place" plan at home.

That means finding an interior room with no windows on the first floor, a safe room, or underground shelter.

Also, build a disaster supplies kit with enough food and water for 72 hours, and have a weather radio and extra batteries on hand.

Despite the safety concerns, the city says it's keeping those shelters open again this year.

FEMA recommends no more than an 8-minute walking distance to where your family decides to take shelter.

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