2NEWS Investigates: Storm shelters for all in Oklahoma, but funding comes with a catch

For Okmulgee Elementary School teacher Gena Ballard, they aren't just students. They're her children.

"You care about them all the time. You care about them when they're not here. You think about them on the weekends," said Gena Ballard.

She thought about them when the Moore tornado hit. "It's scary to think about how am I going to protect 22 children," said Ballard.

It's why she wants a storm shelter in her school, and why Sheldon Starr wants a shelter in her Okmulgee home.

"It would be nice to know that we had a safe place," said Starr.

FEMA will pay for their storms shelters, but there's a catch. Cities and counties have to have what's called a Hazard Mitigation Plan. Basically, it's a detailed plan explaining how emergency managers would handle a disaster.

However, the 2NEWS Investigators found dozens of cities and counties in Green Country that have expired plans, including: Jenks, Skiatook, Collinsville, Sand Springs, Muskogee and Okmulgee County, just to name a few. That means Jenks, Sand Springs and Collinsville can't qualify for FEMA-funded storm shelters since they have expired plans.

But experts say that's not the only problem with an expired plan. Cleveland County, where Moore is located, had an expired plan when the tornado hit.

At the time, Judy Soos, who writes Hazard Mitigation Plans, was writing Cleveland County's plan.

According to Soos, FEMA said it would give them aid, but Cleveland County better have a current hazard mitigation plan to them in 12 months or else.

"They get to refund all that money," said Soos.

Soos writes plans for counties across the state and says this is an unfortunate requirement.

The 2NEWS Investigators looked into FEMA requirements. The law says without a plan, FEMA will only pay for debris removal, not repairs to buildings or streets.

In Cleveland County's case, non-debris removal costs total $640,000 so far. It's money FEMA gave the county, but the county could have to pay it back if its Hazard Mitigation Plan doesn't get approved in time.

So if a tornado hits a city or county in Green County that has an expired plan, it could be in the same position..

Experts cite several reasons for why plans expire. One is time.

Tim Craighton with Okmulgee County Emergency Management has been working on their plan for a year now. It expired in 2012.

"It is time consuming. There's just nothing we can do about that," said Craighton.

Because it takes so much time, cities and counties often hire someone, like Judy Soos, to write the plan.

Which poses the next problem: money. The county's expense is usually around $25,000.

After dealing with that, Soos says then comes the ever-changing FEMA guidelines.

"This happens a lot. It's not anything new, but it does complicate the process," said Soos.

The 2NEWS Investigators contacted FEMA. It denied our request for an on-camera interview, but did send us an email saying it changes requirements to "reduce risk."

The 2NEWS Investigators took Soos and Craighton's concerns to Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole's office. His staff expressed concerns about having to potentially pay back funds after a disaster.

His office is now looking into the matter.

Here is a list of Green Countries cities and counties that have expired Hazard Mitigation Plans, according to FEMA:

    City of Claremore-Pending Adoption
    City of Bixby-Approved
    City of Sand Springs- Expired 8/20/13
    City of Sapulpa-Approved
    City of Skiatook-Expired 1/6/13
    City of Collinsville-Expired 5/29/12
    City of Coweta-Approved
    City of Muskogee-Expired 3/25/13
    City of McAlester-Approved
    City of Miami-Expired 6/12/13

    City of Tulsa - Approved: 10/6/2009
    City of Broken - Arrow Approved: 7/2/2012
    City of Owasso - In Review
    City of Jenks - Expired: 5/22/2013
    City of Tahlequah - Expired: 6/9/2013
    City of Bartlesville - Approved: 4/12/2011

    Tulsa County - Approved: 9/23/2010
    Wagoner County - Approved: 6/9/2009
    Creek County - Approved: 2/4/2014
    Rogers County - Approved: 8/31/2010
    Osage County - Approved: 10/30/2013
    Delaware County  - Expired: 11/27/2012
    Washington County  - Expired: 8/19/2013
    Craig County - Approved: 3/15/2011
    Mayes County - Approved: 15/15/2013
    Muskogee County - Approved: 7/14/2009
    Okmulgee County - Expired: 7/2/2012

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