It’s the end of tornado season, and hopefully, everyone made it through safe and sound. As architects, we always encourage schools to review their emergency plans every year because as spring rolls around, we can count on receiving numerous calls concerning tornado safety. Common concerns include how to find the best area of refuge, how much a safe room costs, how long it will take to build a safe room, where the best place is to go in buildings and what FEMA 361 is. Some of these can be remedied immediately, while others may require a longer-term solution.
A well-thought-out emergency plan is critical to ensure the safety of our children and school staff. A district's number one goal is to educate kids, but for parents, keeping kids safe during the day overrides everything. Many districts without a safe room will leave it up to their administration or principals to determine the locations they think is the safest in their schools. This is a dangerous practice, as we are relying on educational administrators to make safety-related decisions on building safe zones, which should be left to qualified professionals who are experts in engineering and construction. These uninformed decisions can be detrimental and cause a district to incur additional liability if a storm ever occurs.
One example of this is during a recent emergency plan review with a district, the staff selected an interior room of a building as their storm shelter that they believed to be safe. Our review discovered that the selected safe room was, in fact, inside a metal building (similar to a barn structure) that had been covered with brick so it looked like a typical building from the outside. The building had several additions over the years, and there were MANY locations that were significantly safer than the location they selected.
We encourage everyone to contact a licensed architect, engineer or the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management to help you devise the safest storm emergency plan possible. A review from a qualified team is simple but will provide the safest possible refuge solution for each school in your district. The brief list below describes what to expect during the assessment process:
- Meeting with school stakeholders to discuss safety concerns and plans
- Review the schools existing emergency plan
- Walk through of the school and campus with a checklist guide to determine the conditions
- Tornado assessment showing potential risks and improvement recommendations.
Having a professional recommendation is essential in protecting the lives of your staff and children. Don’t let another sever weather season pass without having a plan!
Kahle A Wilson, NCARB, AIA
Design Architects Plus, Inc.