Oklahoma : Safety by City
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Right at a major crossroads in southeastern Oklahoma, McAlester stands as a testament to resilience and cultural heritage.
Its story intertwines with the Choctaw Nation, the coal industry, and the unwavering spirit of its people.
Named after James Jackson McAlester, a prominent Choctaw businessman, and politician, McAlester emerged as a bustling hub during the late 19th century, fueled by the discovery of rich coal deposits.
Coal miners, drawn by the promise of opportunity, flocked to the city, transforming it into a vibrant melting pot of cultures and traditions.
McAlester’s legacy played a pivotal role in the development of the Choctaw Nation.
The city’s unique blend of Native American heritage, industrial grit, and political influence has shaped its identity and continues to inspire its residents.
A visit to McAlester is a journey through time, offering glimpses into its rich past while embracing its vibrant present.
The city’s historic downtown, adorned with turn-of-the-century architecture, whispers tales of its coal-mining heyday.
The Oklahoma Mined Land Reclamation and Conservation Commission’s McAlester State Park, a former coal mine transformed into a serene oasis, stands as a testament to the city’s ability to reimagine its landscape.
Today, McAlester also serves as the home to the Oklahoma State Penitentiary and McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.
Warnings & Dangers in McAlester
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to crime rates in McAlester, but basic safety steps will leave it at a low risk. We just need to talk about the higher crime rates, which are relatively easy to avoid.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
No public transportation system is available here. Taxis and rideshares should be relatively easy to find but not as robust as in some larger cities. Having your own vehicle is ideal. All options have a low risk, but to guarantee you have a way to get around, get your own car.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Just one pickpocket has been reported in the past five years, giving it a low risk. However, your stuff isn't safe in your car. We'll talk more about that later.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
While Oklahoma is known for its severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, McAlester has taken quite a beating in some winters. Ice storms have twice left the city without power for up to two weeks at a time. Because of the year-round risks of all kinds of severe and disruptive weather, there's a medium risk. However, we're going to help you stay informed of those incoming hazards.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
The robbery rate is 44% lower than the national average, with just 15% of those being highway robberies going back five years. The risk is low, but you keep it that way by staying in well-lit areas at night.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
The McAlester Army Ammunition Plant holds about one-third of all munitions used by the Army and makes most of its bombs. That means there's a medium risk because that's a high-value target. That risk also comes with a wealth of security, which almost negates the risk.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
You should check the McAlester Police and Pittsburg County law enforcement websites for scams happening closer to your visit. While most scams and fraud target locals, it helps to know the warning signs. The risk is low, but you can never be too careful.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
Statistically, there's nothing that shows women are at a greater or less risk than men. The same low risk prevails, but never let down your guard.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
I count five violations in the 2023 Water Quality Report. While that sounds scary, it's a testament to the strict standards of tap water in America. You can read the report to see when the violation occurred, when it ended, and what was done. There's no reason to think there's anything but a low risk in the water, but feel free to use bottled water if you feel safer using it to drink.
Safest Places to Visit in McAlester
The city of McAlester’s website has a Tourism tab on the top right side of its website.
That’s the link to the official tourism site.
(For those who want the exact website, it’s www.cityofmcalester.com/tourism/tourismindex.php.)
There’s a lot of history to learn in McAlester, which might make you appreciate your time there more if you start with the background.
First, try the Union Pacific Historic Walking Trail.
It’s self-guided and a great way to get a lay of the land.
The McAlester Museum has all the human history you would want but also includes a dinosaur surprise – You’ll get to see a cast of a dinosaur skull from 500,000 years ago.
It was unearthed in the 1980s.
The museum has 12 rooms and is housed in the old high school.
With the long presence of the state penitentiary here, it’s no surprise that the Tannehill Historical Gun and Prison Museum is also here.
Guests will also get a look at the old electric chair known as “Old Sparky.”
The McAlester Scottish Rite Masonic Center offers tours by appointment only.
The museum is a vintage Masonic lodge that features exhibits with artifacts and an Egyptian-style auditorium.
Just a few miles away in the town of Krebs, you can visit the Krebs Heritage Museum, which celebrates the Italian influences on the community over the years.
You have McAlester Lake and walking trails around town to explore, but for a unique outdoor experience, head 50 minutes east to Robbers Cave State Park.
Outlaws used to hide in these hills.
Overnight accommodations include yurts and covered wagons, in addition to hiking trails and ATV trails.
Places to Avoid in McAlester
McAlester is a small town without really enough space to have a “good” or “bad” part of town.
The poverty rate is twice the national average, and this is a working-class community.
You won’t really have a reason to be in random neighborhoods unless you are visiting someone there.
Speaking of visiting, the only way you’ll see inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary is if you are visiting someone.
There aren’t tours of the facility.
Visitors can check out the website to get information, but I can tell you that all visitors will go through a complete background check.
You can call for more information at (918)423-4700.
Avoid going on the penitentiary property or the ammunition plant.
Those are both private property with a lot of security.
This region is sometimes referred to as “Little Dixie” for its historical ties to the culture of the South.
These are people set in their ways.
It’s wise not to get into political debates with people or touch on cultural/social issues.
Safety Tips for Traveling to McAlester
- McAlester has its own police department. You can follow them on Facebook @McAlesterPolice. The phone number is (918)423-1212. It’s a good idea to follow the Pittsburg (proper spelling, not like Pittsburgh the city) Sheriff’s Office too.
- The city of McAlester does a great job of updating Facebook with safety information, like street closures or storm issues. You can follow them @cityofmcalester1.
- While you’re there, look for the “McAlester Pittsburg County Emergency Management” Facebook page to stay aware of health, safety, and weather information.
- For water safety information, check out the Rural Water District 5 website for alerts and updates on issues like water main breaks, boil orders, or freeze warnings.
- Review the emergency management and natural disaster plans for the city and county, especially if you aren’t used to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. The weather here can be deadly, and you need to be prepared when seconds count.
- If a storm is approaching, look for covered parking or a garage. Hail can be up to baseball size here and will easily smash a windshield.
- The city’s website has a video tour to show you around the region. It’s a great way to get familiar with the area and meet some of the decision-makers in town.
- Sign up for emergency alerts through the Smart 911 program. This will get severe weather information or shelter-in-place orders right to your mobile device. You can choose if you want emails, phone calls, or text messages.
- Anglers need a fishing license from the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. That license will cover any lake or river where fishing is allowed, but be sure to review the restrictions and seasons as applicable to your plans.
- If you run into a safety issue, like a missing stop sign or a big pothole, use the Citizen Request form on the city’s website. Every little bit of safety information helps. Never assume someone else has reported an issue.
So... How Safe Is McAlester Really?
McAlester has a lower-than-average violent crime rate.
In fact, the rate is 34% lower than the state average and 30% lower than the national average.
Just more than half of all violent crimes happen in private homes.
About 22% happen against strangers.
That means the low risk is even lower for visitors who don’t know anyone in town.
Robberies are 44% lower than the national average, and just 16% of those are highway robberies.
Thefts are a different story.
The rate is 48% higher than the national average, with car break-ins and accessory thefts making up 35% of all thefts.
You must lock your car here and never leave anything inside.
Even a GPS holder could indicate there’s a valuable electronic device in the car.
McAlester has a lot of industries that thrive, but the poverty rate is still twice the national average.
Many available jobs don’t pay a living wage.
The homeless population keeps rising, and the city is trying to figure out a path forward to help people get back on their feet.
Because of this, you might notice homeless camps or panhandlers.
McAlester is a safe enough city, at least by violent crime standards, but it has a bit of a way to go before it’s a more exciting place to visit.
To be honest, even researching this story was tough due to outdated websites, dead links, or listings with no additional information.
The location of the city is great and close to many highways, but it still has a lot to be desired for the average tourist.
How Does McAlester Compare?
|Hong Kong (China)
International travelers are required to obtain a visa or visa waiver to enter the country. To determine your eligibility for a visa waiver, consult the U.S. State Department website. Your passport should be valid and not within six months of expiring.
Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here. With the high theft rates, I'd avoid carrying cash as much as possible. The airports in Oklahoma don't have a foreign currency exchange. If you want cash, use an ATM, but we recommend one inside a bank only used during business hours for the best security.
Pack for the season, but know that temperatures can be feisty in Oklahoma. Winters can have warm stretches and even late spring can get cold spells. Sometimes changes can happen overnight. Summers will be hot and humid. Bring bug spray, especially if you'll be spending a lot of time outdoors.
You can get to the Tulsa or Oklahoma City Airport in about two hours. Tulsa is a bit closer, but OKC is a larger airport. A new terminal is being built at the McAlester airport, but it's unclear if that would include commercial flights.
When journeying somewhere that weather could impact, travel insurance is a must. Be sure to address health coverage as well if you're uninsured internationally. Also, verify rental car insurance will keep you covered in case of a mishap on the road.
McAlester Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Oklahoma - Safety by City