- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The switchboard at the La Quinta hotel in Moore was filled with questions from out-of-town guests about tornadoes, general manager Glenda Newton said.

“We were right in the path of a major storm system, and everyone was freaked out,” Newton recalled of May 20, 2013, the day a killer tornado tore through Moore, just north of her hotel. “Fortunately, we did not get a direct hit, and everyone gave us good reviews afterward,” she told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1hShBnv ).

She ushered everyone to the bank across the street where they waited out the storm in the vault. More information would have helped reduce their anxiety, she said - explanations about the difference between a tornado warning and a tornado watch, for example, or what storm sirens mean or where to seek shelter.

That’s what Jeff Penner has been working on for the last few months: an educational guide for hotel guests staying at the more than 140 hotels in the Greater Oklahoma City Metro Hotel Association.

Penner, the trade organization’s chief executive, said hotels typically present plenty of promotional materials about area restaurants and tourist attractions for guests to study, but other information tends to be generic and interchangeable with any hotel in a chain. And yet Oklahoma is well-known for its position in Tornado Alley. Providing a guide for dealing with native weather emergencies would seem to be an obvious way to improve a guest’s visit when the weather turns nasty.

“It’s always interesting to see how guests react when the sirens sound,” Penner said. “Half of your guests are asking what they should do, and the other half are running out to the parking lot with their cellphones to take pictures.”

Brian Workman, manager of Springhill Suites by Marriott Moore, agreed that he’s seen many guests lose their cool. He said the association’s educational material will be an invaluable resource.

Penner credited Oklahoma City’s emergency manager, police Sgt. Frank Barnes, for the genesis of the concept, and City Hall spokeswoman Kristy Yager for helping put the package together. Penner plans to release a website in about a week so that managers can print their own copies. The total cost of the project is minimal, he said, and it dovetails nicely with each hotel’s own emergency response plan.

“I, as a manager, start paying attention and planning an exit strategy well in advance,” Newton said. “It will be nice for our guests to have the same sort of information for their own peace of mind.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com