Tulsa 'Safe Place' Signs Not Representative Of Storm Safety

Wednesday, April 8th 2015, 6:40 pm
By: Emory Bryan

A recent tornado that moved through Sand Springs and west Tulsa had some residents leave their homes and drive to businesses and public buildings in search for shelter.

Emergency mangers said, in most cases, they would have been better off at home.

Some think the “safe place” signs outside fire stations and QuikTrips might have people thinking it's a tornado shelter, but it's not.

There are no public shelters in Tulsa, and even if there was, driving to one could be more dangerous than staying home.

3/31/2015 Related Story: Communities Continue Cleanup Post Sand Springs Tornado

The signs say “safe place,” but it describes social services and doesn't apply to storms, but that didn't stop people from driving to businesses and fire stations to find shelter.

Captain Stan May with the Tulsa Fire Department said, “It's not an indication that we're tornado safe here, because that's not what these buildings are designed for.”

When asked if similar things happened at other stations, May said there were a few, but nothing compared to the 30 civilians that showed up at fire station 22.

Firefighters couldn't give them proper shelter and couldn't leave the station with people inside.

Emergency managers, like Tulsa's Roger Joliff, are concerned about people leaving home to find shelter at a business.

“Very common practice for stores to tell people in their store to move to a place of safety that they've identified, but that doesn't mean you should go out and try to get in there, you shouldn't go out. Don't go out, shelter in place,” Joliff said.

He said Tulsa's system of outdoor sirens and media alerts typically gives people time to find shelter, but they shouldn't leave home unless they're in a mobile home.

At QuikTrip, the stores make an effort to shelter people inside and around the store, but then they lock the doors, according to Mike Thornbrugh.

"We do lock the doors after we've seen everybody we possibly can and then we go into an area where we can't see or hear, or assist anyone, and that's why we do that," he said.

Thornbrugh also thinks there might be confusion over the "safe place" signage.

Neither QuikTrip nor the fire stations want to become destinations for shelter during storms, and experts said in almost all cases it's best to stay in place until a storm passes.

A mobile home is the exception to the stay at home rule; but in that case Tulsa's emergency management director said almost any place is safer and any home is a better choice than that for shelter.