Sixteen years ago, at 9:02 AM our lives were changed by the sound of an explosion, a thump in the ground, or the news media breaking in on regular programming. Within minutes people were rushing to help, whether trained in rescue or not. Tragically, a nurse doing just that was killed by falling debris.
Even after the police and fire department took control and limited who was allowed in to the area, Oklahomans still wanted to help. The Red Cross and Salvation Army were flooded with volunteers. Churches started serving food and collecting donations of anything that might be of use. Any need that was broadcast by the media was met almost immediately. I was answering the phone at Salvation Army Area Command the second or third night and took a call from Fedex. They had a box of hardhats sent by some company in California. We sent someone to pick them up. One cold night some of the rescuers asked for sweats to put on under their clothes to stay warm. I put out the request through Salvation Army communications and within an hour the Red Cross brought me a box of sweats they had picked up from the Oklahoma Emergency Operations Center.
Every time I was down on site someone was coming by every few minutes giving away food. If you didn't want the chili, soup, or sandwiches from the Salvation Army truck there was hamburgers, pizza, etc donated by restaurants. Someone came by with a big bag of candy bars and other goodies and I, not wanting to take food away from the rescuers, asked for a Butterfinger because I didn't see any in the bag. They walked on and I went back to what I was doing. About an hour later they were back with a handful of Butterfingers and made me take them. More than once over those first two weeks I was asked when I last ate and if it had been too long I was intimidated into eating something.
Oklahomans also don't steal from each other in times of disaster. Carol Arnold had a talk show on KTOK at the time and she was asked on air by one of the east coast media people why she thought there hadn't been any looting. Her answer was, "It just never occurred to anybody to loot here." The U.S. media had pretty much the same reaction after the Japan earthquake last month. "Why is there no looting?" "Why are people standing quietly in food lines without rioting?"
Compassion and integrity. Oklahomans and Japanese don't look to the government to babysit us. We help each other, we don't complain, and we stay calm. Some of the generosity surprised me in 1995 but now it's just a way of life. I'm proud to tell people I was born and raised in Oklahoma.