When a tornado headed toward the OCCC area the evening of Friday, May 31, the college opened its doors to a community in need of shelter. Megan Selby and Daulton Atterberry were among those who sought refuge in the college as the storm hit.
The two entered the college via the doors by Student Support Services around 7 p.m., Selby said in an email. She and Atterberry quickly took cover under a desk in the Advising area.
“We watched the wind, rain and debris pound the glass,” Selby said.
The pair also made plans.
“[We were] trying to charge phones and iPads [so] in case the ceiling caved in on top of us, people would know where to find us,” Selby said. “As we heard more people entering the building saying ‘where’s the safe place?’ or ‘where is the basement?’ we decided to go with the rest of the people.”
She said campus police directed them to a room near the Testing Center that was already full of people, one of whom was not doing well.
“As the security guard told us to go in the room, she was moving people forward, and we saw one man sweating and feeling claustrophobic. He had to get out.”
Selby said she felt she couldn’t stay in that area because it felt like “cattle being herded into small rooms,” so she and Atterberry decided to return to the Advising area.
“We ran back to advising,” she said. “[That] being where I worked, I knew how to get in the break room.
“As we got in there, we turned the iPad to News 9. Watching the live view, we knew exactly what was going on.”
Thinking the college might be hit, Selby said she decided to cover her bases.
“I posted a message on Facebook to let friends and family know where we were,” she said.
“ … Another 30 minutes went by, and we kept hearing loud bangs and water flowing,” Selby said. “We could not tell where it was coming from. [We thought] it was the fountain by the main entrance, but quickly realized it [wasn’t].
Fear soon turned to hunger.
“We began to get hungry and heard the police bring others snacks,” Selby said. “We scavenged the break room and found string cheese in our refrigerator.”
As the storm subsided, Selby said she heard campus police down the hall, telling everyone there was extreme damage and they would have to be escorted out of the college within the next half hour.
“We didn’t want to wait,” she said. “It was time to go. We saw people in the hall and blended ourselves back in with the crowd.
“We broke away toward the main entrance and snapped a few pictures of the roof tiles caving in and water flowing down making a huge flood in Registration and Records,” Selby said. “We then dashed towards the front door, and realized it was dangerously windy and still pouring rain.”
Selby said a campus police officer said if they left then, it would be at their own risk.
“The ceilings were already coming down so we decided to make a run for it. We only could go out the main entrance because they said all the others [were] blocked off due to the debris.
“We ran outside and Daulton asked a cop for a ride [but he] denied us,” she said.
Selby said the two then ran toward their parked car but couldn’t get through because the area had flooded.
“The current was too strong so we ran all the way back to the road and then, ran back to the parking lot where we parked — the entrance by Student Support Services.”
Selby said the damage they saw was extensive.
“Driving away, we came upon call boxes blown down, trees in the road, trampolines in the power lines and power poles laid over in the road,” she said.
“But maybe the most interesting one of all was the convenience store ice machine in the middle of SW 89th street.”
Marketing and Public Relations Director Cordell Jordan said approximately 450 people took shelter on campus May 31, including Police Chief James Fitzpatrick, two full-time officers, one security officer, and two other officers from the FACE Center who were on staff that night.
The campus had closed at 5 p.m., he said. Still, officers opened the doors to those who showed up looking for shelter.
“We had several people in the community that came to campus to take shelter from the storm and we could not turn them away,” Jordan said. “Everybody needs to have a plan for severe weather. For some, that plan included coming to OCCC.
“Of course we’re going to help those that need help,” he said.
Jordan said the college is not a designated place to shelter.
“We do request that folks in the community have alternative plans in the event that the campus is closed during severe weather.”
Those who do shelter in public buildings do so at their own risk.
In May 2012, Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2419, which protects homeowners and businesses from liability while offering shelter during a storm. Fallin said no one should worry about opening their home or business to someone seeking shelter during severe storms.
Rep. Eric Proctor (D-OK 77th District) said he drafted the bill after someone in his district sought shelter at a mobile home park’s office during a storm, but was turned away because of liability concerns.
The bill can be viewed at http://openstates.org/ok/bills/2011-2012/HB2419/documents/OKD00010796.
If you have a story to share about the storm or took shelter at OCCC, contact the Pioneer.