The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

May 22, 2013

Enid schools: Designated areas, but no safe rooms

By Phyllis Zorn, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Each Enid school has a designated area where students go in the event of a tornado warning, although none of the buildings have safe rooms designed to withstand the force of a tornado.

Amber Fitzgerald, human resources and communications director for Enid Public Schools, said each building’s tornado procedure is unique.

“Every school develops tornado procedures as part of their Safe School Plan, which includes input from teachers, parents and administrators,” Fitzgerald said. “The locations are consistent with the advice of emergency and weather officials: The lowest, safest, most protected areas of the building.”

Superintendent Shawn Hime said cost is a factor in the decision not to build safe rooms.

“As we planned facility improvements and construction, we visited other school districts and reviewed different sheltering options,” Hime said. “We found through discussions with other districts and our architects that most schools have not included shelters that are FEMA-certified, including emergency lighting and heat/air with a back-up generator, because it has not been financially feasible to do so.

“This is mainly because of the size needed to hold the entire building capacity, which would be about 750 people in the new EPS buildings. Many districts — like EPS has — are designing buildings with interior rooms without windows and or concrete hallways that can provide greater protection during weather events.”

“The plans address the safest areas in each building to take refuge during a weather event, which differ based on the facility,” Fitzgerald said. “This includes basements, hallways, restrooms, locker rooms, closets, storage areas and more. Each classroom is assigned to a location, and we practice procedures with students and staff twice annually. The law next year specifies that the drills must be in September and March, and we have already adjusted our district drill schedule to meet this requirement.”

The locations where students shelter during a tornado warning, by school, are:

• Adams Elementary School — bottom floor hallway.

• Coolidge Elementary School — central hallway, restrooms, library office, storage rooms, music room and counselor’s office.

• Eisenhower Elementary School — south hallway.

• Garfield Elementary School — classrooms, east hallway, west hallway and music room.

• Glenwood Elementary School — main hallways, restrooms, teacher workroom and library workroom.

• Hayes Elementary School — main hallway.

• Hoover Elementary School — PE equipment room, offices, restrooms and teacher workroom.

• McKinley Elementary School — hallway of new addition.

• Monroe Elementary School — music room, east hallways, restrooms and secretary’s office.

• Prairie View Elementary School — office workroom, computer lab, storage rooms, workroom and restrooms.

• Taft Elementary School — restrooms, counselor’s office, library storage room, basement, south hallway and gymnasium office.

• Emerson Middle School — downstairs gym.

• Longfellow Middle School — bottom floor hallway of the old Garfield Elementary School and bottom floor hallway of main building.

• Waller Middle School — restrooms, basement, workroom, storage rooms, locker rooms, technology education room, library office and east area hallway.

• Enid High School — first floor, second floor and east wing hallways.

• Lincoln — restrooms and basement.

• Carver — basement.

EHS Principal Jim Beierschmitt said when the east wing of the high school was built, the east hall was constructed with reinforced concrete ceiling and cinderblock walls.

“It is structurally heavy and structurally sound,” Beierschmitt said.

In the wake of Monday’s tornado ravaging schools in Moore, administrators are eyeing their safety plans again.

“Nothing is more important than the safety of our students,” Fitzgerald said. “It is our greatest priority and responsibility. Every principal will review their storm safety procedures and make adjustments as needed. We also appreciate the support of local emergency officials, who have provided each school with an emergency radio system. Enid Public Schools relies heavily on local and state weather notices, forecasts and warnings to plan and to make decisions during a weather event.

“We also have an extensive communication plan that allows us to share information effectively and in a timely manner with parents in order to help keep students and families safe.”

According to The Associated Press, Albert Ashwood, director of Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said Oklahoma has reinforced tornado shelters in more than 100 schools across the state, but the two hit by this week’s storms in suburban Oklahoma City did not have them.

It’s up to each jurisdiction to set priorities for which schools get limited funding for safe rooms, Ashwood said.

“It is up to each jurisdiction or each superintendent to plan what they want to have,” said Mike Honigsberg, certified director of Enid and Garfield County Emergency Management. “As a school system, nobody has called and talked to me about wanting to put safe rooms in.”

Honigsberg said the county is working on writing its mitigation plan, as required every five years.

The reason he has not applied for funding for school tornado shelters is that there has been no money in the fund, Honigsberg said.

Although Honigsberg estimates the odds of a tornado hitting any particular Enid school to be “very low,” tornado shelters would be well worth the investment in his eyes.

“We have got to make every effort — at whatever the cost — to protect our children,” Honigsberg said. “I’m really surprised after watching all these videos that more people were not killed.”

Pleasant Vale Elementary School has a safe room as part of an addition to the building, Principal Larry Coonrod said. In the new wing is a reinforced hallway that runs the length of the building with seven-inch-thick concrete overhead, Coonrod said.

“I actually had the plans out yesterday looking again,” Coonrod said. “We’ve had 330 in there, and that’s not utilizing the whole space.”

Dale Bledsoe, superintendent of Waukomis Public Schools, said the high school has a hallway with pull-down metal doors and reinforced concrete ceiling. One end of the hallway, though, is open.

“It’s still not what we need, but it’s the best we have,” Bledsoe said.

Bledsoe said there is a need for accessible funding so schools could build tornado shelters.

“I think every school would like to have a safe room or a basement, but we need funding,” Bledsoe said. “It’s going to make all of us re-analyze our priorities, but before we can change things, there has to be money.”

Ashwood said a shelter would not necessarily have saved more lives at the Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children sheltering in above-ground classrooms were killed. He says no disaster mitigation measure is absolute.

He says authorities are going to review which schools have safe rooms and try to get them in more schools across the state.