The redbuds are blooming, but as most of us know, springtime in Oklahoma isn’t all blossoms and sunshine. Whether it’s an incoming thunderstorm with the potential for hail and flooding, or the risk of a tornado, there are plenty of reasons Cleveland County residents need to stay weather aware and weather ready this time of year.
The National Weather Service provides information on how to be a #WeatherReady nation and our local NWS keeps us apprised of upcoming weather concerns, but, at the county level, we look to the Emergency Management Director for guidance before, during and after natural and other disasters.
Cleveland County Commissioners hired Emergency Management Director George Mauldin, a 29-year veteran of the Norman Police Department, in 2013 to replace Dan Cary who was retiring. Mauldin started with the county on March 1 that year.
Mauldin has been a pivotal member of the county team since his hiring and was thrust into action that spring.
On May 19, 2013, a tornado hit the eastern portion of the county, doing extensive damage to rural neighborhoods like Pecan Valley. The next day, an F-5 tornado swept through Moore, wiping out entire neighborhoods, destroying two elementary schools and killing 24 people.
Mauldin, supported by the county commissioners and their road crews, stepped up to help manage the dual crisis.
While Moore was able to put a recovery team in process and qualified for millions in federal FEMA dollars, residents in rural Cleveland County faced some unique hurdles. Fortunately, as part of Cleveland County, the two tornadoes qualified rural residents as well as Moore residents for FEMA dollars.
Mauldin worked with residents and other agencies to get homes repaired or rebuilt and to get storm shelters built. Still, due to the challenges, a Long-Term Unmet Needs Committee was formed to help people in rural areas. By 2015, the committee, comprised of agencies like United Way, American Red Cross, several churches and other nonprofits along with Cleveland County Emergency Management had channeled funding to 175 clients and expended $2,591,454 in the area. At that time, the committee was still getting dozens of new cases every couple of weeks.
Mauldin said the local churches were the driving force behind the long-term recovery efforts and the success of the committee.
“They were already out here and they knew the people,” he said.
Tornadoes may be among the most destructive of natural forces Mauldin faces on the job, but during his tenure, he’s seen his share of damage from flooding, hail, snowstorms, straight-line high winds, thunderstorms, lightning and fire.
Any of these events can result in loss of power and communications as power lines, phone lines and cell phone towers are affected.
“In rural areas, when people with water wells don’t have power, they don’t have water,” he said. “The areas of need are multi-layered and we have to help people through these emergency situations.”
One thing most Oklahomans didn’t foresee was the COVID-19 pandemic. Mauldin has been on the front lines, coordinating with the health department and other agencies to keep the Board of County Commissioners updated on the status of the disease’s progression and effects on everything from the area hospitals to the jail and local prisons.
As new variants have arisen globally, he’s reported on those and the potential threat, if any, to Oklahomans. He’s also kept county leadership versed on updates to Centers of Disease Control (CDC) and health department guidelines.