This past Wednesday night when I was in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, at least two tornados and “lots of straightline winds” hit Oklahoma City not too far from the neighborhood where our family lives.

Because of a variety of circumstances, our middle daughter was at home alone last Wednesday night when the local tornado sirens went off.

Sarah called me over FaceTime in tears from her iPhone, unsure of what to do and extremely frightened that a tornado was about to hit our house. I first got her to turn on our television. Thanks to FaceTime videoconferencing, she was able to show me the live OKC News 9 coverage of the storm. If you don’t live in Oklahoma City, you probably don’t realize how incredibly and helpfully detailed as well as accurate our tornado storm tracking is. We live in one of the worst places on our planet for tornados, so it makes sense that our storm trackers are world-class. Cloud rotation during a tornado in our area is tracked on a block-by-block basis, and our meteorologists are able to post to-the-minute predictions of exactly when a tornado on the ground is going to reach communities in its path. Meteorologists cannot predict with complete accuracy when and where tornados are going to descend from the clouds, but once a tornado is on the ground doppler radar permits them to track its live path with outstanding accuracy.

Watching the News9 meteorologist report over the FaceTime connection, I realized the tornado they were describing and showing dramatic, LIVE power-flashes of was located about 45 minutes south of our house in Moore. Of course Moore is our OKC suburb that his been hit twice by F5 tornados (in 2013 and 1999). Even though this initial Wednesday night tornado was not coming toward our house (we didn’t know if others were coming) Sarah decided she wanted to go ahead and get into our below-ground garage tornado shelter which we had installed in the summer of 2013 but never actually used.

Again, thanks to FaceTime videoconferencing, I was able to virtually “be with my daughter” through every step of this traumatic experience on Wednesday night, as she moved things around in our garage and removed the duct-taped dropcloth cover I’d installed over the top of the shelter to prevent bugs and other creepy-crawlies from going inside. The image below is a screenshot of my iPhone which I took with Sarah’s help of our garage tornado shelter, after mom/my wife got home and the immediate danger/fear of a tornado hitting had passed.

This past Wednesday night certainly goes into my personal record books as the best use of interactive videoconferencing I’ve EVER experienced personally. Tahlequah is about 175 miles away from Oklahoma City, and thankfully has LTE cellular data coverage. Thanks to that connectivity at my hotel, I was able to have this all-important FaceTime videoconference call with Sarah. She was physically alone, but she was not alone. I was with her via FaceTime, and could help talk her through what to do and take action to be safe in the event a tornado actually did hit our neighborhood.

We often hear adults lament mobile technologies and the way they encourage people to live “distanced and distracted” lives. While that can be a valid criticism of new technologies, connectivity and mobile devices, it’s also true that these same technologies can bring us together in powerful, transformative ways when we need those connections the most.

Thanks to my parents for helping us get the tornado shelter installed 2 years ago. Thanks to Apple for FaceTime, thanks to T-Mobile for great LTE connectivity in Tahlequah, and thanks to Cox Communications for our reliable, high speed Internet service in Oklahoma City. Our family’s mobile technology tools worked great in a tough situation this past Wednesday, and the connections they permitted made a BIG difference in the life of a 14 year old girl I’m proud to call my daughter.

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One Response to FaceTime Connection During a Tornado Warning

  1. Jasper Fox Sr. says:

    Wow, glad everything worked out so well during this experience! Sounds like it could have been really traumatizing and have had lasting negative effects, yet it didn’t. I really appreciate your dedication to providing a counter narrative to the standard anti-technology lament in such a succinct and thoughtful manner!

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