On May 20, 2013 the first of four Enid, Okla. Police teams headed out
to serve in neighboring Moore, Okla. after the devastation caused by an EF5
tornado. All in all, 40 officers contributed over 600 man-hours from our
department. I worked nights and had slept through the initial carnage. It
wasn’t until the next day that I got a chance to see the news reports; however,
I was part of that first team to answer the call for assistance. The tornado
had torn through Moore,
killing 23 people and injuring almost 400.
The Moore Police Department sent out a statewide teletype requesting as
much assistance as they could possibly get. Our department sent out the page to
Enid’s own police force and eight police and fire vehicles responded. The
police contingent was a mixture of SWAT, patrol and detectives. Along with hundreds
of other public servants coming statewide, we were headed to Moore and couldn’t
get there fast enough.
The first thing we saw after wading through the traffic was a throng of
people who had just lost almost everything. They carried suitcases (probably
filled with what little they had left) and walked in a fragmented line
westbound. Looking in their faces, we didn’t see the heartbreak one would
expect. Instead, we saw calm and absolute resolve. Their strength transformed
our sympathy into empathy and helped to fuel us through our long shift.
This wasn’t my first major tornado response experience; however, it was
the worst. Tornadoes are both powerful and enigmatic. Mud is caked everywhere. Buildings
several stories tall, which were not felled, were caked in the stuff. So are
the interiors of vehicles, homes, streets and sidewalks. It can really hamper
the emergency response. Another curiosity is how one vehicle remains in place while
another beside it is thrown hundreds of yards away.
We signed in with the law enforcement command post and gave them our
cell phone numbers and radio designations. Our assignment was the most sought
after: criminal interdiction in a
two-square-mile residential area. I asked incident command personnel about communications.
We would have to use “runners” to communicate with the CP. Cell phones weren’t
working and text messages were sporadic.
Communications after a catastrophe is something with which law
enforcement has always struggled. After 9/11, the government created federal
emergency frequencies for this purpose, but those channels were being used for
search and rescue. We didn’t have any local Moore frequencies programmed into
We resorted to dispatching ourselves on an old frequency known as
Mutual Aid. It certainly wasn’t a perfect system, but it worked for car-to-car transmissions
during our imperfect situation. If we
located a victim, we would have one of the other Enid units drive to the
command post to get help.
We familiarized ourselves with the area as best we could and then started
patrolling. Occasionally, the fire guys
or National Guard would ask for our help in door-to-door searches. We weren’t assigned to do that, but we helped
them until we weren’t needed anymore and then we got back to patrol.
We dug through the debris, all the while hoping we wouldn’t find
anyone. Thankfully, we didn’t. What we
did find were houses with the roofs and bedrooms completely gone, yet in one
case, the kitchen and appliances completely intact. Some homes were missing a
roof or their second story. Some were
completely leveled. The utter devastation of one house was sharply contrasted
by the nearly pristine home next to it. Of course, the most difficult thing for
all of us was finding children’s toys in the debris, an unwanted reminder of
the most helpless and innocent victims.
Deviating from one’s designated assignment or “going rogue” after a
disaster is as common as it is detrimental to the operation. We did a
relatively good job of staying on task and following our assignment, though it
was difficult at times. There was one particular strip mall in the middle of
our patrol zone that contained a liquor store. Its front windows were gone and
its colorful glass liquid-filled wares were mere feet inside the door.
A few people stood across the street staring at the potential booty,
but we knew we had to focus on the residential areas. Begrudgingly, we had to leave them to the
possibility of looting for a while. When we came back later that evening, nothing
appeared to be missing. As it turned out, several other law enforcement
officers were assigned to the same area, had noticed the same situation and
were routinely discouraging those few who would steal from the good people of
The neighborhoods were packed with police cars from other jurisdictions
driving slowly and silently with their overheads activated. We waved to each
other solemnly as we passed, in acknowledgement that these could have just as
easily been our streets.
The response of emergency services agencies in and around the City of Moore was
impressive. Within a short time, the entire
operation was organized. These men and women of Moore were victims as much as any other
citizen. Many of their own homes were destroyed and their belongings were
Some of those who were on duty at the time could not check on their own
families for several hours. In spite of their personal needs, they stayed there,
keeping their oath. It was all too easy to imagine myself in their place. There
is some comfort in knowing that, God forbid, were we ever in such a position,
hundreds of emergency responders are just a mere teletype away.
Toward the end of what turned out to be a 15-hour shift, exhaustion set
in, but our spirits seemed to rise. We knew the second team of Enid Police and Enid
Fire were already en route to replace us. In every residential neighborhood we
patrolled, we saw benevolence. There were neighbors helping neighbors and strangers
helping strangers. The Red Cross and Salvation Army provided food.
Many citizens who suddenly found themselves homeless secured stray dogs
and took them to an impromptu shelter instead of tending to their own needs. Other
people collected the strewn family photographs of strangers in the hopes of
someday returning them to their owners. Despite the vast opportunities,
criminal activity was almost non-existent.
On the drive home the next morning, I could not have been more proud—proud
of the oath keepers that I had served beside from my own department and others
from surrounding jurisdictions, and of the citizens of this great state. You
can’t curse Tornado Alley. This is Oklahoma.
Warren Wilson is a lieutenant
with a municipal police department in Oklahoma. He is a SWAT team member/leader
and has been in law enforcement for over 17 years. He can be contacted at