Tulsa Public Schools Has Plan In Place For Severe Weather

Tuesday, April 29th 2014, 6:22 pm
By: Emory Bryan

Tulsa Public Schools has a plan in place in case severe weather develops while students are in the classroom. The goal is not just getting students into safe places, but also building safer places for them to wait out the storm.

In the headquarters for Tulsa Public Schools police, the weather is always on. It is part of the job for emergency manager Bob Roberts, who plans how schools will keep students safe during a tornado.

"We look at what the best available area of refuge is, sometimes that's in a hallway, if they don't have doors at both ends to turn it into a wind tunnel. Sometimes they have restrooms, an interior room, every school is a little different as to where we look," Roberts said.

Soon, that decision will be easier at two elementary schools; at Mitchell, where the district is just starting on an addition, and Lindbergh, where the walls are up on a new building design for TPS.

It's the first time the district has built a large open space strong enough to withstand a tornado. Tulsa Public Schools is going to be building more additions like that.

A library addition at Lindbergh is made of reinforced concrete at least six inches thick; and where there's a window, it's so thick it's tornado proof.

Whenever TPS builds from now on, the district says they'll include a safe room in the plans.

"Building a safe room from scratch gets extremely expensive, but if we're already adding on and can harden an area that we're already going to be building, then we'll jump on that in a heartbeat," Roberts said.

The extra reinforcement to make a library meet FEMA standards added $300,000 to the cost. But TPS has plenty of less expensive plans in place already. Each school is required to have a minimum of three tornado drills - one in September, March and April.

They must evacuate all students within four minutes to designated safe areas and they must have a weather alert radio that's always on.

Roberts said the tornado planning extends to the bus ride home and after school events, as they do everything they can to keep students safe.

TPS says it plans to incorporate storm shelters in any new construction, where it's practical.