Tornadoes and Trust: Ensuring School Safety

With a tornado bearing down on a community, parents of school-age children face a difficult choice: Trust in the safety of school buildings and staff or attempt to take their children out of the path of the storm. As a recent news article points out, the options aren't very good for people who want to rescue their children from the threat of a looming tornado. Yet, the parent-child bond proves too strong for many parents, and attempting to outrun a tornado is preferable to leaving their children at school. As soon as Lilly Karsten of Norman, Oklahoma, heard of the development of a tornadic storm on May 20th, she went to retrieve her son from his school even though they don't have a tornado shelter at their home. Norman is a community just south of Moore. Karsten said "all the schools should have a safe place in a tornado; the kids should not have to hide in the bathrooms." She qualifies that statement by stating that even if the school had a safe room she would have taken her son out of school. When Shannan Rhodes learned of the developing tornado that eventually hit Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013, he went with his wife to pick up his two children from Norman schools; he says his decision would have been different if there were safe rooms in the schools. Rhodes planned on driving south, away from the tornado, once he and his wife had their children with him. As they reached the interstate highway, they saw the tornado hitting Moore and decided they would be safe at home. The Rhodes family home does not have a tornado shelter.
Flags fly half-staff at an Oklahoma elementary school following the deadly Moore tornado of May 20, 2013 ©Lyann Valadez

Flags fly half-staff at an Oklahoma elementary school following the deadly Moore tornado of May 20, 2013
©Lyann Valadez

Rhodes, a bricklayer who lives in west Norman, believes there should be a mandate that schools have a safe room, and states, "When you send your kid to school, you are expecting they have a safe place to go from danger." Rhodes believes the Moore tornado will be a wakeup call, not only for Moore, but anywhere that's ever been hit by a tornado. He says he is certain Moore will develop a mandate for safe rooms in schools, yet remains uncertain whether other areas will follow suit. One Iowa writer says after the Moore tornado she can’t help but think of a Parkersburg, Iowa, tornado that hit on Graduation Sunday five years ago. Before that tornado, the Iowa school shelters were the same as the shelters in the majority of Oklahoma schools: hallways, bathrooms, and gymnasiums.  After the tornado the high school was rebuilt with an underground concrete reinforced wrestling room that can double as a storm shelter. Shannan Rhodes voices a sentiment echoing across the nation after the Moore tornado: bonds are issued for new gyms, auditoriums and football fields – why not for storm shelters? “We want it, we pay for it, we get it.” Rhodes emphasizes that the Moore tornado should be a wakeup call, a point not lost on Oklahoma officials. Moore Public Schools Superintendent Susan Pierce told reporters "When our children are at our schools, they are in our care." Pointing out that children at school need to have a sense of security, and the school structures need to be safe, Rep. Joe Dorman, D, said Tuesday he is drafting a bill that would authorize $400 million in bond financing to pay for shelters in public schools. Representative Dorman has told reporters "It's unconscionable that we don't have a place where the parents feel that it's safe for their kids during the day.” According to KFOR.com, there is no Oklahoma law requiring schools to have safe rooms or tornado shelters. A new fund set up with $500,000 seed money from Apache Energy Corporation is going to make sure Moore schools have storm shelters. The Apache money is specifically earmarked for Moore but the hope is the fund will expand.

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on “Tornadoes and Trust: Ensuring School Safety
3 Comments on “Tornadoes and Trust: Ensuring School Safety
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