Oklahoma Inspectors Provide Blueprint For Safer Schools

Saturday, June 14th 2014, 6:08 pm
By: News On 6

Emergency managers are calling a new inspection program to keep school children safe during a tornado a game changer.

Officials learned a lot from the deadly tornados that struck the Oklahoma City Area a year ago, and now a plan is in place to beef up school shelter plans across the state.

It's a first for Tulsa schools.

Architects and engineers started bright and early Saturday morning at Eliot Elementary in Brookside. Parts of the school campus are more than 85 years old, and administrators want to make sure students are safe when a tornado hits.

We all remember last year in Moore, when a deadly tornado hit Plaza Towers Elementary School head on, killing seven students. Pleas from parents wanting more funding to build storm shelters and upgrade schools continue to be a hot political issue for Oklahoma.

In the meantime, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management is working with school districts to make improvements in existing school buildings.

After the May 2013 tornado outbreak, emergency managers used federal grant money to survey 31 school buildings in the Oklahoma City area.

5/12/2014 Related Story: Parents Of Plaza Towers 7 Share Their Story

"In each one of those site visits, we have found better places for the school population," said Bill White, program coordinator for Safe Schools 101.

Now the state is taking the Safe Schools 101 program to Tulsa Public Schools.

"I think you're going to see that this is really history in the making," said Bob Roberts, Tulsa Public Schools emergency manager.

Take Eliot Elementary in Brookside.

If a tornado warning is issued for Tulsa, a ground-level hallway at Eliot Elementary is one of the many areas where students will take refuge, but the whole point of this study is to identify more areas within school buildings for students to take shelter.

Program coordinator Bill White says trained volunteers with engineering and architecture backgrounds survey the school buildings and put their findings on a score sheet.

"Tony, the first thing we look at is what the school is currently using for the safe refuge areas, and many times these have been handed down from principal to principal to principal and it's never changed," White said.

Teams are also looking at Webster High School. TPS officials say this assessment will work as a new blueprint for more schools in the district.

"This is absolutely a step up in what we were able to do in the past. It really will help us make our schools that much safer," said TPS Emergency Manager Bob Roberts.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management says all a school district needs to do is hear from the superintendent, and engineers and architects are ready to roll and do a site visit.

There are more than 1,800 schools in Oklahoma. It's going to take a long time to get these assessments completed.

Superintendents wishing to schedule an inspection can write Bill White at bill.white@oem.ok.gov.