The Norman Transcript


July 20, 2013

Tornado safety is a high priority as schools design safe rooms



Once safe rooms are locked down, school officials can’t open the doors until the tornado has passed. If the doors are opened during a tornado, safety is compromised. Additionally, school safe rooms are not public facilities — they are designed for the children, teachers and staff who are on site, Kitchens said.

Williams also emphasized the importance of locked, FEMA-approved doors on tornado safe rooms. He said the FEMA-approved triple deadbolt locking system must be secured when a tornado hits.

“There are only two hardware systems that have passed the tests and are being used today,” Williams said.

Reinforced hallways are safer than those that are not reinforced, but doors are key to safety in an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado.

“They (the hallways) need the doors,” Williams said.

BWA has completed 90 safe rooms in Oklahoma, most of them in schools. Only a handful of those are FEMA funded. The firm has been doing business in Norman for 39 years.

An April 14, 2011, an EF-3 tornado killed two people, damaged homes and destroyed a school in Tushka, a small community near Atoka. Many members of the community crowded into a safe room adjacent to the pre-school, while others crowded into a below-ground public shelter with dirt floors and steel doors, according to media reports. The two people who died were not in those shelters.

Today, the rebuilt Tushka school has four saferooms, one in each wing. BWA worked on that project. The Tushka school safe rooms were FEMA-funded.

But FEMA funding comes mostly after devastation rather than before. And FEMA safe room guidelines are built to hurricane specifications rather than tornado specs — a fact that makes those facilities more expensive than they have to be.

Schools building tornado shelters without FEMA funding follow FEMA guidelines for structural safety and doors, but may leave other, costly elements out of project plans.

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