ADA — The city of Ada does not have an official public storm shelter, nor do they plan to open one.

“There are no official public shelters within the Ada city limits.” said Gene Linton, Ada Public Safety director. “In severe weather such as the confirmation of a tornado, the average warning time is just 12 minutes. That doesn’t provide enough time for families to get ready, safely travel to a remote shelter, find parking and get checked in before it could hit,” he said. Linton said statistics show there is a greater risk of vehicle-related injuries in seeking public shelter than if people sheltered in place.

During periods of severe weather, the office of the emergency management director begins monitoring the National Weather Service (NWS) radar. When it is determined a weather system is closing in on Pontotoc County, trained weather spotters are dispatched throughout the county. They, in turn, relay reports back to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) about conditions they observe. If a tornado is sighted, or a tornado warning is issued by NWS, sirens may be sounded, cable TV channel 11 may be used for weather information, and the public may be advised to shelter-in-place or take precautions according to their planned disaster policies.

If severe weather is forecast or conditions worsen, residents are advised to listen to the radio, the sirens, or tune into cable TV channel 11 for instructions. The city does not normally direct radio broadcasts, but radio stations operate with frequent weather information as a community service. Sirens are an early warning designed to be heard when outdoors and may not be heard indoors if they are not located nearby.

There are shelters that have agreements in place with the local Red Cross chapter to open to the public after a disastrous event. Most area schools have gymnasiums that are federally mandated to be available if the Red Cross calls them into action, which they will not normally do before a disaster occurs. Linton said residents should not phone 911 to find out information about shelters in the event severe weather occurs, but to call Red Cross to be prepared before an emergency occurs. After injury or damage, if there is an emergency and help is required, then residents should phone 911.  

“Even though this extreme action is an option after a disastrous event, there are formal agreements that outline the cooperative plans with the school officials in charge of the keys to the facilities,” said Geneva Howard, executive director of the Pontotoc County Chapter of the American Red Cross (PCARC). “School officials will always have control over access,” she said.

“If you do not know which schools in your immediate area have a gym that Red Cross would call into action, phone Red Cross at (580) 332-2402 and find out, as part of your emergency preparedness plans. Be aware that most gymnasiums will not be opened unless Red Cross requests that a school official open them for mass shelter.”

At East Central University, the basement of the Horace Mann building, the basement of the Science building, and the ECU ballroom are all handicap accessible, however not officially designated by the city as shelters. Ada Public Library has in the past been designated as a civil defense shelter, but Linton said it has serious safety issues that prohibits its use as a shelter, such as exposed wiring located near the exits, inadequate lighting, not being handicap accessible and no assigned coordinator.

Several larger churches in the area have agreements in place with the Red Cross, but since they are not owned or managed by the city, they are not required to be ADA compliant. These churches include, but are not limited to, First Methodist Church, Center Free Will Baptist, First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

Residents of McCall’s Chapel have a disaster plan agreement with the PCARC if it becomes necessary to evacuate, and buses at the school will take them and staff to the nearest alternate location, which will likely be Homer School. An agreement between PCARC and Call-A-Ride is in place to supplement the transport with handicap-equipped vehicles. The same type of plan is in place for residents of Heartland Plaza.

Several nursing home staffs have undergone disaster planning courses with PCARC to facilitate a safe environment during severe weather. Most of the nursing homes have designated halls where residents are either confined, ambulatory or wheelchair dependent. Beds can easily be moved into halls away from windows and reduce the possibility of flying debris near residents.

Linton said when there is a disaster or emergency situation in the city, the emergency management director is the point of contact between all state and federal aid that is available to the city. The emergency management director helps coordinate the efforts of all city department heads to ensure emergency situations are responded to effectively. This individual also coordinates damage assessment, with the assistance of the Red Cross. No state or federal assistance is issued until damage is fully assessed, he said.