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Tornado Shelters on Campus

Two tornados touched down in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Oct. 13. People across the state, including students and staff at Oklahoma Christian University, took shelter to avoid the storm.

Oklahoma Christian had a team of people monitoring the weather, including the Oklahoma Christian Chief of Police, Chief Operating Officer and the Dean of Students. When the storm intensified, Oklahoma Christian alerted students through their Rave text system, which notifies students about any possible threats to the campus. 

Neil Arter, the Dean of Student Life, explained the process of sheltering on campus during a tornado.

“We will try to use the bottom floor interior halls of our residence halls and move all apartment residents to the bottom floor hallway of PEC and the Auditorium in DAH,” Arter said. “Students should check the back of their res hall or apartment door for exact locations. Commuters or those caught in academic buildings should take the lead of the faculty and staff in that area.”

Senior Kellen Welch lives on the third floor of a campus apartment building. She said the Rave system alerted her to the storm shortly after the National Weather Service, but she did not know where to shelter.

“The alerts say, “Please move to a designated safe area and continue to monitor communications,’” Welch said.

Welch said eventually, a friend told her to go to the Prince Engineering Center. She said she thought she could make it to the DAH from her apartment but ended up getting stuck in the storm.

“I ended up walking outside when the storm started picking up, and it was really scary,” Welch said. “There was a moment when I went, ‘okay, I’m probably gonna die here.’”

Welch said someone driving by picked her up and drove her to the PEC, where she stayed during the storm. Several people from Student Life gave updates on the storm to everyone who was there. Welch said she later found out someone had made a safe space at the apartments.

“My (Residence Advisor) also used our group chat to make sure we were all safe and coordinated a safe room on the bottom floor that we could use for shelter – I had already gone to the PEC, though,” Welch said.

Senior Coleman Dillahunty said he and his roommate sheltered in their apartment on the first floor during the recent tornado warning. He decided to not go to the PEC after what happened to him and his roommate during a tornado warning their sophomore year.

“When we got there, the only room there was left to stand in was not in the safe area; it was in that tall, two-story room where there’s just glass,” Dillahunty said.

He and his roommate decided to stay in their dorm in Wilson instead, since it had interior bathrooms with no windows.

Dillahunty said it would be beneficial to examine if more spaces on campus could be shelters.

“I think if we had at least someone come in and look over some more places that would work as shelters, I would feel safer – some more options that may not be an actual shelter but could withstand a storm,” Dillahunty said.

Arter said the campus has run out of space in the past.

“The worst problem we have encountered is overcrowding in the safe areas that we have designated,” Arter said. “My biggest fear is people getting caught out in the storm trying to get to shelter.”

Arter said he recommended adding more shelters.

“My only change would be to add above ground storm structures on campus that could house more students easily,” Arter said.

Welch said there needed to be more discussions about tornado safety on campus so students would understand proper procedures.

“Tornado safety needs to be discussed in dorm/apartment orientation, and the student handbook needs to be updated with specific instructions, as it also just says ‘move to a safe location’ with no details about where or what that might be,” Welch said. “Students won’t necessarily have time to look up the handbook in case of an actual emergency, but it serves as an easy reference for anyone curious about procedures.”

Oklahoma Christian currently has an emergency procedures page for events like tornados. It recommends taking shelter in a lower level, central room without windows or open exterior doors. They also recommend hiding as low as possible under padded covering.

Arter said he was thankful people on campus were alert and aware.

“I am thankful that the University’s experience with tornado warnings has been met with cooperative students, faculty and staff as well as outstanding servants to keep us safe,” Arter said.

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