School Ready For Tornado Season

Friday, March 2nd 2007, 10:05 am
By: News On 6

A survivor says it was "like a bad dream" when a tornado tore apart an Alabama high school, killing eight students. The disaster plan at that high school was to shelter students in a hallway, but here in Tulsa, TPS tries to avoid hallways in favor of smaller spaces with no windows. Tulsa Public Schools looked over every building to find the best shelter during a storm, and kids practice getting from the classroom to the shelter several times each school year. The News on 6’s Emory Bryan reports every school is different, but the plan is to get away from glass, to a space with strong walls and a strong roof.

The hallways of Hale High School look like they would be safe during a tornado, but they're not the safest place. Principal Chris Johnson believes there's a much better place, downstairs in one of several underground locker rooms.

"Typically we can get them all down here in two and a half minutes," Principal Johnson said.

There's plenty of room in the locker rooms for all of Hale's 830 students, and it's easy to get to because the rooms were built as fallout shelters. They have never been used during a weather threat, but the students go down into the shelters four times a year during tornado drills.

"Not only do the teachers know where they're supposed to go, they know which hallway, which stairwell to take so you don't have the congestion of everyone trying to fit down one hallway," said Johnson.

Getting to a safe place during a tornado is simple at Hale because all of the students go to a central point underground. At other schools it can be more complicated, because the students have to split up and find individual rooms without windows. Hale has some above ground rooms that don't have windows, but since there's so much room underground, students would leave those rooms during a tornado.

The children in that Alabama tornado were in a hallway when the roof collapsed on them. Cases like that encouraged Tulsa to find a better space during severe weather, going underground whenever possible. And now schools are built taking tornado safety into account, especially in Oklahoma.