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March 19, 2014

Tornado assessments help Norman Public Schools find best available refuges on site

NORMAN — As ice storms quickly give way to darkened skies, whirling wind and severe weather, local emergency management is working to keep students safe by arming Norman Public Schools with the best emergency plans possible.

Recently, Norman Emergency Management — in conjunction with OU Emergency Management, Moore Norman Technology Center Emergency Management and the National Weather Service — created teams of volunteers including architects and engineers to inspect Norman schools.

Teams issued reports regarding each school’s existing emergency plan, how those plans stand up to severe weather and whether plans could be adjusted to be more effective.

Gary Armbruster, AIA, a principal and architect of MA+ Architecture, was one of the many volunteers who donated his time to make Norman schools prepared for severe weather.

The father of three boys, Armbruster said the May 20 tornado came about a mile away from his house, which is why he wanted to help with the assessments. Armbruster has 17 years of experience working with schools and is one of only two certified education facility planners in the state.

Armbruster and his team inspected Norman North High School and Norman High School as well as all four middle schools: Alcott, Irving, Longfellow and Whittier.

“We met with each principal, found their emergency plans — specifically for tornado assessments — and looked at what they did in the event of a tornado, how they sheltered children and how they dealt with the public,” Armbruster said. “For example, what does a school do if a parent shows up to get their kid out of school? And what does the school do if the public shows up for shelter? Because historically, people think schools are a safe place to go, but they may not be.”

Armbruster said his team’s main objective was to determine where students and faculty should and shouldn’t go during a storm. An example of such a place students, teachers and faculty should not go during a tornado is any place under a 40-foot span of roof or upper levels with a column at each end.

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