Tornadoes Bring Tragedy, Rekindle Memories

Tuesday, 30 April 2024 07:16

Tornadoes Bring Tragedy, Rekindle Memories Featured

Written by Joe Dorman, OICA CEO
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OKLAHOMA CITY – This past weekend had moments of somber reflection for many Oklahomans as our state once again endured tornadoes impacting thousands.

My deepest condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones over the weekend, to the persons injured, and to the communities and individuals who sustained horrific levels of destruction. Among those who died was a family member of a friend, a 4-month-old due to injuries sustained, and a truck driver who was on Interstate 35 perished.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management shared that of the 100 injuries reported to hospitals across the state due to the storms, 25 people were cut or pierced, 30 were falls, 16 were either struck by debris or fell against it, 17 were transportation-related injuries, and 12 other injuries were not specified.

Each time a tornado strikes Oklahoma, memories of the efforts exerted to improve access to shelters statewide come to my mind. In 2011, a tornado struck part of my legislative district in Chickasha, killing Laron Short as a mobile home crushed her. In 2013, the devastation which struck the community of Moore killed 25 Oklahomans, including seven grade school-aged children when their school was hit.

As a lawmaker, I worked with individuals to expedite the state funding to help with immediate repairs as we were close to the end of the legislative session and those funds would need to be allocated officially by the Legislature. Otherwise, it would have been the following February before resources were provided for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) matching dollars. Fortunately, all involved, Republicans and Democrats, agreed this was essential.

My friend Mark Nestlen and I met with the families of the seven children and others affected to look for solutions. We developed a plan to take a bill previously filed by a Republican lawmaker and modify it to provide a $500 million bond issue to allocate to school districts to provide state matching funds to add storm shelter space and provide for school resource officers for schools to help provide protection from both storms and active shooter situations.

That bill did not receive a hearing, while another bill was moved forward that would have allowed school districts to go beyond their local bonding limits to build shelters, but anti-tax advocates worked against that measure, stopping it in the process.

Not much progress has been made in the decade since to provide state-supported shelter space for individuals or communities. Thanks goes to Rep. Kevin Wallace for funding safety construction to protect from shooters last session which may include space to protect from tornadoes, and I encourage schools to pursue this for shelter purposes.

Many school districts did include shelters in newer construction, including my hometown of Rush Springs, in which people sought safety on Saturday night as a tornado touched down close to our community. I certainly encourage all communities to include this.

While it is again late in the session, I encourage lawmakers and Governor Stitt to expedite the funds this session to help communities rebuild. It is vital to provide money to match federal dollars so that there is no delay. Otherwise, the devastated communities will solely bear the costs until 2025 or later.

I also ask that lawmakers look to options which might help individuals, schools, and communities construct shelter space through either a tax rebate or other options, and that the state look to provide shelter space at official visitor centers and other locations along highways so those on the roads can find safety. Otherwise, we will repeat this tragic tale each time a deadly tornado strikes Oklahoma.

 

About OICA: The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”

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