, Muskogee, OK

May 5, 2013

No city storm shelters, but havens available

By Dylan Goforth
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Muskogee, like many area towns, doesn’t have a dedicated city storm shelter.

But there are several options available in a pinch. Muskogee has a few neighborhood shelters, and authorities encourage locals to see what is available to them.

For instance, Tony Goetz Elementary School has a shelter that can accommodate more than 400 people, director of maintenance for Muskogee Public Schools Wayne Johnson said.

“It’s key-coded, and neighbors have the code,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the project cost for the shelter was $445,200. More than $300,000 of that cost was reimbursed through a Federal Emergency Management Agency rebate.

Johnson said Sadler Arts Academy has a basement that doesn’t classify as a “safe room.”

“But it’s sure safer than a typical house,” Johnson said.

Future school buildings will likely include some type of safe room or shelter area, Johnson said.

“When doing new buildings, we can incorporate shelters and safe rooms into them,” Johnson said. “Most school districts, when they’re doing a new building, will incorporate something like that or will have corridors that can act as a safe room.”

Muskogee Emergency Management Director Jimmy Moore said that during times of crisis, the Bedouin Shriners provide a shelter.

“In that instance, they will call me and let me know and I can get the word out,” Moore said. “When I get word from them, I put it on channel 14.”

Moore’s advice is to check with neighbors to see if they have shelters or cellars available, or know of nearby areas to seek safety.

There are specific, logistical reasons Muskogee doesn’t have a dedicated city shelter, Moore said.

“A lot of people think, I can’t believe some place like Muskogee doesn’t have public shelters,” Moore said. “But look around, most places don’t.”

Most area communities report the same issues, with liability being the biggest, as well as general safety.

“We don’t have a specific place, and we don’t have the funding to make a specific area into a shelter,” said Wagoner City Superintendent Larry Morgan. “There’s nothing that we feel confident would stand up to a tornado. There’s just no place we feel comfortable with, and we might end up with a place that can suit 200 people, and we have 500 people show up. And then, God forbid, something does hit those unprotected people (who can’t get into the shelter).”

Moore said another reason many towns opt to not have a dedicated shelter is that it’s just not safe to have people on the roads during severe weather.

Checotah does have a public shelter at the intermediate school, said Emergency Management Director Leslie Phillips. It can fit approximately 500 people and comes with just one rule.

“The only thing we ask is no pets,” Phillips said. “It’s a joint gymnasium and cafeteria, so because of health codes, there can’t be any pets.”

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or