Past Research

Managing Disaster: 20 May 2013 Central Oklahoma Tornado

Research dates: 2013-2016
Investigator(s): Rachel Riley and Alek Krautmann

The EF-5 tornado that struck the central Oklahoma communities of Newcastle, Oklahoma City and Moore on 20 May 2013 required the full engagement of local, state and federal emergency management and captured the attention of the nation and even some parts of the world. Even though the event was exceptionally well-forecasted, 24 people were killed and 387 were treated for injuries at local hospitals. Central Oklahoma has recent experience with violent tornadoes. Prior to the 20 May 2013 tornado, two other violent tornadoes took similar paths, on 3 May 1999 and 8 May 2003.

At the crux of responding to a tornado disaster are the efforts of emergency responders to rescue and tend to victims. Emergency managers (EMs), who not only prepare their communities for such an event but also manage the storm’s aftermath, play vital roles as well. In order to respond effectively, appropriate planning and preparation must take place prior to an event. Actually experiencing a disaster provides an opportunity to see how well the planning, preparedness and response efforts worked and what might be improved should another disaster occur.

The 20 May tornado provided a unique opportunity to learn how city, county and medical emergency management officials and non-profit organizations in the local area dealt with what could be considered a repeat event. The purpose of this report is to share the perspectives of eight officials who were involved in planning for and responding to the 20 May tornado. Their assessments were collected through semi-structured interviews.

The research questions that are addressed in this report include:

1a) How did the response to the 20 May 2013 tornado compare to prior plans and expectations?

1b) How did the management experiences from the 3 May 1999 and 8 May 2003 tornadoes or other disasters influence the management of the 20 May event?

2) For communities that have not yet experienced a disaster of this magnitude, what crucial elements should be included in their planning exercises and documents?

Materials: Final Report