Approximately 45 emergency responders met at the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management early Monday to prepare for the possibility of severe weather striking the McAlester area from Monday through Tuesday.
During the Level 2 meeting, they were told to prepare for the possibility of tornadic activity, strong straight-line winds, flooding and other severe weather. A Level 2 meeting means multiple local and area agencies are involved in the preparations, said McAlester/Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management Director Kevin Enloe.
Enloe said the National Weather Service had advised that the possibility for the timing for the onset of severe weather in the Pittsburg County area ranged from Monday afternoon through Tuesday.
"I think the time we could get really dirty is after 5 p.m. (Monday,)" he said.
He urged everyone to be prepared to remain vigilante Monday and overnight through Tuesday — although he noted that the predictions of when and where the storms could hit has been evolving as the day's weather conditions unfold.
Enloe said the entire state of Oklahoma has been warned to be on the alert for catastrophic weather issues on Monday through a portion of Tuesday, including the overnight hours.
Some officials were told earlier they should remain vigilant, even if the big clusters of thunderstorms bypass McAlester, because conditions exist for isolated tornadoes to pop up outside of thunderstorm clusters.
McAlester Fire Chief Brett Brewer told the group of emergency responders they should remain aware. Even if one storm system passes through, another could be on the way.
"It's going to be coming in waves," he said.
Enloe told the group all decisions in the case of a weather disaster will be made by a unified team including the Office of Emergency Management, the county, the city, law enforcement and fire officials.
"This is a unified command center," Enloe said. It's not one person running the show, he said.
Key members of group were to continue meeting to determine staging areas for emergency responders — with the possibility that those could change depending on where and when any needs might be.
They were preparing for the possibility of dealing with everything from mass casualties to mass feeding areas — although they were hoping none of it would be necessary.
McAlester City Manager Pete Stasiak said the city was available to help where needed.
"We're here to assist the entire region," Stasiak said.
One of the responders asked about public storm shelters.
Enloe asked Stasiak to correct him if he's wrong, but said the city has identified the Fire Station at Kinkead Hills and the Old McAlester High School, on Adams Avenue between Second and Third Streets, as designated shelters. Enloe said those have been presented to the public as designated shelters in the city.
"I will not put my name on the Old High School," Enloe said, referring to the building being used as a public shelter. "It's not a FEMA-rated shelter," he said, meaning it has not been certified as a public shelter by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Enloe also said no one should rely on storm sirens as a warning for severe weather, but should use other technology, including phone APPS and weather radios.
He also said those with storm shelters should use the city of McAlester's Web site to register them in the city of McAlester or contact the Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management, with those outside the city limits encouraged to use the OEM option.
Enloe said registered shelter sites are among the first places checked following severe tornadic or straight line wind weather, to make sure a tree has not fallen over the shelter door, leaving those inside trapped.
"The other night we had a citizen in a storm shelter and a tree fell on the storm shelter," Enloe said.
Among those attending the meeting at the Office of Emergency Management were representatives of the city of McAlester, Pittsburg County commissioners, Pittsburg County Sheriff's Office, McAlester police, McAlester Fire Department, McAlester Regional Health Center, Pittsburg County Health Department, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, members of rural volunteer fire departments, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, the Red Cross and ambulance services, among others.
He told city and county officials to keep track of all overtime that might be required due to the stormy weather as well as the damage that occurs. It will be important in getting reimbursed later, he said.
Enloe said there's no way of knowing how many, or if any, of the emergency responses planned for Monday will be necessary to implement in McAlester or Pittsburg County.
"Is this necessary? I don't know," Enloe said. "I'm telling you what the National Weather Service tells us to plan for.
"If we do this and all we get is a few drops of rain, it's a good training session. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org