Few Oklahoma Schools Have Real Storm Shelters
TULSA, Oklahoma - The schools in Moore had children take shelter where they could, but that was not a true safe room. And most schools don't have anything better.
There are a few notable exceptions here in Northeastern Oklahoma.
Hale High School has an underground shelter that's safe in a tornado, and one elementary school has one.
But at all schools, students are taught what to do and schools have tornado drills to make sure they know.
The hallways are crowded at Kendall-Whittier Elementary. The number of students and the size of the school means during a tornado warning, they have to go into many different shelters throughout the building.
"Depending on where the kids are at, we have little nooks and crannies all over the place," said Principal Ronda Kesler.
The school has a lot of small rooms without outside walls, like a computer lab.
"And we use a lot of our storage rooms, because they don't have windows. We go for the minimum window space," Kesler said.
Kendall-Whittier is one of the newer buildings in TPS, but like most, it doesn't have a true storm shelter, just lots of places that are better than others.
It's the same at the 9th grade center in Sand Springs. It's an old building, made of concrete and brick.
There is no intentional storm shelter there, but there are places that are slightly below ground level and surrounded with thick walls. The superintendent said it's the best they can do.
"[It's] getting kids in hallways like this that are lower, and those are the plans we have for every site. And you can't always have an absolute guarantee, but you can make it a priority, and we've done that and will continue to do that," said Sand Springs Superintendent Lloyd Snow.
The students do drills several times a year on how to get out of their classrooms and into a safe place. The district has had local firefighters give them suggestions on where to go, so students will have the most protection.
In Sand Springs, even their newest school building doesn't have a true storm and it has the added problem of a lot more windows than the old buildings. The plan there is to put students in the bathrooms during a tornado. Those are the only rooms with no glass.
"So it's probably a bigger challenge there, than it would be at a site like this, that has so many levels and we can get kids so much lower than ground level and the architecture is so different," Snow said.
The Northwoods Fine Arts Academy represents the latest in school design, with places that are as strong as any good building, but without a place that's sure to withstand a strong tornado.
Robertson Elementary is one of the few TPS schools with a real shelter. There's room for every student underground in a reinforced room.
It was built that way, in part, because the school had been hit with a tornado before and lost its roof.
But it's nothing close to what they have in Beggs.
In 2005, the district built the first of two domed buildings designed to withstand tornadoes. They have a steel frame and concrete walls that are 16 inches thick.
There's room for every student and everyone in town, and they've used it during several bouts of severe weather.
Back at Kendall-Whittier, the principal said she's confident they're as ready as they can be with the building they have.
"The kids know wherever they are, where they need to go," Kesler said.
But how long does it take?
"Depending on where the kids are, between 30 seconds and a minutes and a half," she said.
The limiting factor is cost and design. Not many new schools come without lots of windows, like the one in Beggs.
Several school district officials told us today they believe this disaster will lead to changes in school design, just as Sandy Hook is changing school security plans.