Devastating F5 tornado hits Moore Oklahoma killing 24 people and leaving most of the town a massive heap of rubble including 2 schools that were in session when it hit. As news outlets began wall to wall coverage showing the extent of the leveling damage, telling inspiring stories of survival, sending us video of firsthand accounts describing what it was like, how they managed to be alive and mostly unscathed, another picture too started to emerge; that, one of ill preparation, derelict building codes, lack of storm shelters, basements, safe rooms. And while the people of Moore are profoundly thankful, projecting the concept this could have been so much worse, others across the country now knowing their tax dollars will go to help rebuild, compelled to reach into their own pockets for these people who suddenly have nothing, looking at the dead children hearts ripped open are asking questions. Questions centered around very practical issues for a community in the heart of something called Tornado Alley; questions like why there were no safe rooms in the two schools now literally flattened, why there were no community storm shelters for an area described as working class where residents could little afford said shelters, questions about the need for increased stringency of building codes for the region and why they weren’t already in effect for a place so prone to this type of natural disaster, who had seen devastation as much as 3 times in less than the last 30 years? Despite some political analysts and news anchors proclaiming this is exactly the time to depoliticize the conversation, moving away from hating government until you need it, the we don’t want government coming in here mentality or, on the other side, a mandate government come in and fix Moore so nothing like that happens again, instead saying it is time for a rational, frank discussion; it must be said situations like the pre-storm mindset, environment in Moore is a prime example against the case for additional states’ rights, going back to states’ rights of a bygone era, a key debate in the last election.
Click above to see what that frank discussion should look like.
Why is that important, because conservatives like Ron and Rand Paul still believe in the utter sanctity of states’ rights, local control, micro local control on the city and county level, the same states’ rights, micro local control that translated into only some Oklahoma counties adopting new tornado precautions, building codes circa 2006. These are the same rights that allowed city officials not to build a community storm shelter/safe room based on an obviously inaccurate statistic there was only a 2% chance of Moore being hit on any spring day. Yet not only is that completely false based on what happened, it is likewise false in as much as there are high school students there who had seen this kind of devastation in their living memory, and not from days ago. Similarly coupled with states’ rights is federal government inattention that caused there to be a lottery in Moore for residents who wanted storm shelters, safe rooms but could not afford the 8-10 thousand dollars for them which saw 16,000 applicants and could only fill the requests of 500 due to the “ever moving target known as FEMA regulation,” identical inattention that garnered no federal money to put with city, state funds geared toward putting safe rooms in every school in Moore, in the state as a whole. Unfortunately Moore is not an outlier, an aberration when it comes to tornado preparedness in the region known as Tornado Alley; city, state, county mandates for basements and storm shelters are rare throughout all effected states. Only Alabama insists schools be equipped with safe rooms reinforced with things such as steel and rebar. Another phenomenon that is sadly all too common; it took the desolation by hurricane Andrew to make Florida significantly rethink its building code requirements. But if states aren’t going to step up putting the proper regulations and specifications in place then the national government should, for the 2 infants that died that day, for the 7 young children who were killed at one school who maybe didn’t have to have their lives cut short.
Perhaps what makes Moore and the surrounding areas plagued with tornados slightly different than others also seeing tornado activity is it’s sandy soil and high water table making basements prone to both flooding and mold, virtually eliminating the typical, less expensive option already built into homes as a feature. However left unexplained is why entire neighborhoods were left looking like the homes were made of toothpicks, considering what we currently know about high winds, constructing dwellings, businesses, community centers and so on that can withstand, no not and F5, but an F1, 2, 3, leaving something besides a mangled mess behind where a house, a business, a church used to be. An inability to add both extra space to a home and a safety feature, even a lack of funds to retrofit all commercial, business, public buildings still does nothing to explain why specific public buildings held little to no safety exactly where they should; it does nothing to explain why students were left cowering in classrooms covering their heads with backpacks and textbooks shielding themselves with desks for want of any other protection, why teachers bravely threw themselves atop students to protect them sans any other way to keep tiny grade school children from being sucked away, hit or crushed by debris, it nowhere near explains why a worker at a non-residential daycare was forced to huddle in a bathroom with their charges, again for lack of any other shelter or protection for the smallest, most vulnerable potential victims. Also to be examined is, what are cities, counties, states spending their money on in a place designated Tornado Alley, if not protections against the most common weather event to impact their citizens? Sadly they prove with a body count what Ron Paul said in the last election season when he put forth the question, somewhat incredulously asking, why taxpayers from around the country should have to relinquish their hard earned money so people in disaster zones can A- continue to live there and B- continue to build as they always have? Because unlike super storm Sandy that hit New Jersey, New York with something they hadn’t seen in at least 100 years, hurricane Katrina’s core damage was caused by a deficient, neglected levy system, and like Katrina, much of the total destruction, loss of life in Moore was needless. Of course nearly everyone was incensed by the question and its insinuation; arguments against removing disaster relief, implying we can simply force everyone to relocate were sound in pointing out that nowhere in the country is immune to one form of possibly dangerous weather or another, attempting to relocate vast numbers of people not only puts overtaxing strains on existing cities, much too quickly for them to adapt, it translates into a real chance of taking over, eclipsing farmland used to feed this nation and the world. But then why aren’t we doing something to make places people already live, must live considering the county and the globe’s population, safer?
Go here to hear accounts of the Moore lottery system and lack of community storm shelter.
Returning to only what happened in Moore, what needs to happen going forward, no, you can’t protect 100% against Mother Nature, you cannot predict every eventuality, you cannot prevent every death in the wake of nature’s fury, but you can certainly do far better than students shielding themselves with books against a vast and violent vacuum. In fact all of Tornado Alley needs to adopt the following building codes since Moore typifies the region; every new home must have a storm shelter/safe room build to current FEMA standards attached to the home via a garage, build into the home itself or present on the property. Home owners at a certain income level or above will be responsible for keeping it to FEMA standards in coming years while they reside there; for those below designated income level grants and programs need to be allotted to keep such shelters to standard. All new apartment buildings must have storm shelters and safe rooms as well build to house the maximum number of occupants per building; rental property owners, managers netting profits at or over a specific amount will be responsible for the upkeep and FEMA standard compliance. Owners, managers below those profit margins, operating smaller residential rental operations should receive monies to adhere to compliance rules and ensure safe rooms/shelters are kept in working order, subject to inspections and fraud charges if money is mishandled. Efforts and monies on the city, state and federal level should likewise immediately be given towards the goal retrofitting structures with storm shelters and safe rooms beginning with all public buildings such as schools, hospitals, nursing homes, daycare centers able to house the maximum capacity for the building in question. All new buildings fitting either the classification of residential or public building routinely housing at risk persons i.e. children, the sick, the elderly must be built to structurally withstand an F3 tornado event, no ifs, ands, buts, maybe’s and no exceptions. Because as we see in the video, how something is designed matters just as much as did they have a safe room, were the building materials capable of withstanding X weather condition, were buildings reinforced with structure stabilizers like rebar? As those classrooms began to collapse students and teachers were able to make it out through the opening created by a main artery hallway vs. the other, older school; no opening and children died having nowhere to go, no way to get out. Similarly smaller towns should be mandated to have a community storm shelter people can flee to particularly for working class communities like Moore who cannot just cough up the extravagant expense needed to construct a storm shelter, in the meantime while new regulations are implemented, during the time it takes to execute retrofits; practicality comes into play too when considering a family retuning from the grocery store as a twister touches down therefore being closer to the community store shelter than their own home should go there instead. Mobile home parks are a part of the American landscape providing housing for poor people who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to live; mobile homes people are told to flee in the event of a tornado, meaning they too must have a place to go.
This is how you properly prepare against and prevent loss of life, excessive building damage, extensive debris removal at the cost of billions and trillions of dollars; this is what should already be in place and it is shameful in the United States of America with all its safety regulations, governmental bodies meant to protect people, its wealth, stability that it is not. Simultaneously citizens and residents have to be savvy about the area they live in, the place they choose to move to; no one in the part of the country appropriately called Tornado Alley should even consider buying a home without a basement where applicable, a safe room/storm shelter, without accounting for the money it will take to add one to a property. Investigating rental property, one of the first questions should be does it have a storm shelter/safe room; is it made for the maximum number of occupants that can be safely housed in the building it is meant to cover? When and if working with a real-estate agent, persons involved with showing property to potential buyers and renters, begin by asking only to see properties that include this feature. People rebuilding after such a storm should petition their insurance company, the federal government not just for the cost of the home, the maximum allotments under the policy they paid for, but for sufficient funds to rebuild a better home meant to withstand weather so often present and it should be granted providing the contractor, construction company charged with said rebuilding effort is qualified, knowledgeable enough to properly execute damage prevention upgrades. Renters and members of housing developments from public housing, to upscale apartments, to people renting homes should bring up safety initiatives to add storm shelters/safe rooms to individual properties or consider getting one in a strategic community space; home renters should continually address it with their landlord until it is completed. You don’t have to be hapless and helpless even when standing up to Mother Nature.