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When disaster strikes America, a more skilled response

The Oklahoma tornado is the latest bout of extreme weather to require an all-out emergency response. Quick and efficient, the reaction in Moore, Okla., points to a nation getting better at coping with natural disasters.

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Firefighters break through concrete in the remains of Plaza Towers Elementary School. Workers in Moore, Okla., rescued more than 100 people from buildings.

Maj. Geoff Legler/Oklahoma National Guard/Reuters

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On the afternoon of Monday, May 20, the destruction in Moore, Okla., seemed beyond comprehension. More than 13,000 homes were damaged by a tornado that, by meteorological standards, was a raging monster. Residents emerged from the shipwrecks of what had once been houses, not knowing who among their neighbors had fled, who might be hunkered down under the rubble, and who might be dead.

The search and rescue, it seemed, could take days. Instead, despite hard rains and darkness, the initial sweep was done overnight.

Oklahoma's preparation and its prompt response to one of the most destructive tornadoes in history are examples "other communities would be well to emulate," says David McEntire, an emergency planning professor at the University of North Texas in Denton.

 

In part, it was a product of Oklahoma itself – a parable of how repeated exposure to weather's most ferocious extremes builds preparedness into the very DNA of "tornado alley." More broadly, it is also evidence that the United States, as a nation, is simply getting better at dealing with natural disasters.

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