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OUR OPINION: Twister should prompt re-evaluation of tornado plans

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It’s not just man camps. It’s not just trailer parks.

It’s also not just the cities and counties in western North Dakota.

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Sooner or later, every household, business and community in North Dakota and Minnesota should talk about tornadoes and what can be done to lower the risk.

The conversations will have to account for the costs vs. benefits of different defenses, as well as tornadoes’ place on the lineup or life’s dangers (how many people are killed or seriously injured in tornados as opposed to, say, youth and high-school sports)?

But even if the conversations don’t result in any action, they still can make a lifesaving difference. Because if “lightning strikes” and you happen to be among those in a tornado’s path, knowing how to improve your odds can mean the difference between life and death.

In the wake of the twister that injured nine when it plowed through a Watford City, N.D., housing camp, Red River Valley communities should be among those communities that re-evaluate their emergency plans.

For example, do local zoning rules require trailer parks to have tornado shelters? The answer probably is no; even in tornado-prone areas in Kansas and Oklahoma, cities still debate that question because the shelters’ cost typically drives up the price of the trailer homes.

Even so, some towns have adopted the rules, in part because people who live in trailer homes otherwise are so vulnerable to a tornado’s wrath. Couple the imminent prospect of flying debris with the reality of no sturdy or reinforced shelter nearby, and you’ve got no good answer to a resident’ panic-stricken question, “What should we do?”

Speaking of “What should we do?”, imagine if a funnel cloud had been spotted during, say, a high-school baseball game at Kraft Field or a popular soccer tournament. What would spectators and athletes — many of them from out of town — do? Where should they go?

Do any of Grand Forks’ outdoor fields have designated shelters nearby? Remember, the solution need not always be building shelters (although in some cases, federal grants may be available to help do just that).

The solution could be as simple as crafting a plan. Maybe the space under the Cushman Field grandstand at Red River High School could be designated the tornado shelter for events at nearby athletic fields, for example (and assuming an emergency plan hasn’t already been drawn up).

That’s the kind of planning that could help avert a tragedy down the line.

Tornadoes are rare events in the lifetime of any city, but they’re so powerful and destructive that they’re worth planning for. The twister near Watford City raised a new round of questions — and Red River Valley cities should be among those looking to preparedness for answers. 

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