The Norman Transcript


July 20, 2013

Tornado safety is a high priority as schools design safe rooms



“Within six minutes, we had everybody within tornado safe facilities except one school,” Kitchens said.

That school is windowless and children did take cover, but a designed safe room has not been completed for that school yet.

“That’s the only one, and our board won’t rest until that’s taken care of,” Kitchens said.

That school was left for last because it was already safer than other school facilities.

Despite the lack of FEMA assistance, the Western Heights community has never turned a bond issue down.

“They’ve always been real supportive,” Kitchens said. “I can’t tell you how good it made me feel to see such a horrible storm but to know you can get your kids into a safe position. There’s a peace of mind we didn’t have when we started. We live in Oklahoma, and we all know that means storms. We all need to be proactive.”

Williams said many schools build safe rooms without FEMA money. Those schools use the FEMA-approved door system and hardware as well as FEMA-approved reinforcements. Other, more costly items required for FEMA funding are not included when schools pay the full bill, however. The community has prioritized the funding anyway.

“There is a very strong desire to improve the facilities — there has been for the last 15 years,” Kitchens said. “They have set up a level of tax commitment that they will support, and they’ve held steady for that.”

Kitchens said more education is needed so all of the parents understand the schools are tornado safe.

“One of the things that is going to have to happen is the public doesn’t realize our schools are safe. The public wants to come and get their children. Why would you do that if you’re in a tornado-safe condition?” Kitchens said.

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