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Oklahoma tornado a "wake-up call" for Wisconsin

Published On: May 20 2013 10:35:10 PM CDT   Updated On: May 21 2013 11:27:44 AM CDT
Moore OK tornado ireport 3

Brenton Leete/iReport

Twenty-four people were killed -- including seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School.

MADISON, Wis. -

As state officials offered up the Wisconsin National Guard to assist in Oklahoma, emergency management leaders called the tornado a "wake-up call" for people here.

A cold spring -- even frost a week ago -- may have lured Wisconsinites into a false sense of security about storms, said Tod Pritchard of the state's Emergency Management Department.

"I think this situation in Oklahoma is a true wake-up call for all of us," he said. "These people only had eight to 12 minutes warning. That is very little time."

Emergency management officials suggested making tornado plans, buying a weather radio, and paying attention if an emergency alert comes to your cellphone.

The alerts, which officials used for the first time during last December's blizzard warning, will only go to phones within the county where a tornado was on the ground or detected on radar.

The Oklahoma tornado, which had killed 24 people by late Monday night, served as a teaching tool for storm trackers in the Madison area.

The Midwest Severe Storm Tracking and Response Center happened to have its monthly meeting Monday, and discussed the tragedy and its lessons.

"It's a great teaching moment, and we'll use it for a long time," said Dale Bernstein, the group's president.

The organization's volunteers deploy during severe weather, reporting a storm's direction and damage to the National Weather Service office in Sullivan. The rest of us rely on those reports for life-saving information.

"It's critical to get that early warning out," said Bernstein, who said the 1984 Barneveld tornado was the worst in his 45 years of tracking storms. "Those memories never leave you, and that's why we do it -- to give back to your neighbor."

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