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As National Tornado Summit looks at rise in public shelters, schools evaluate safe room access

Posted at 9:19 PM, Mar 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-05 23:11:46-05

TULSA, Okla. — After the doors close, McClure Elementary won't be opening their safe room. The principal said the only way others will get through the door is going through the normal safety checks before a shelter-in-place.

"We just don't have the opportunity or the manpower to do quick screenings on people to make sure that we would be sheltering with people who are safe," Katy Jimenez said.

Other districts, like Hartshorne, have a storm-safe shelter which is available to the public. That's made possible by working together with Pittsburg County Emergency Management. Not all schools have that kind of option.

"We use bond money. That's money for schools and for school-aged children to benefit from. I think that's very different than FEMA money in public facilities that are used as safe areas," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said this kind of technology is something she never would have expected during the Moore tornado just a few years ago.

"You could see that tornado heading for the schools, knowing that people were sheltered inside and I can't imagine the fear and the weight of responsibility of knowing that I have 500 bodies in this building," she said.

Both McClure and Hartshorne opened their shelters in the last year, and other districts are in the planning process to do the same. But at McClure the FEMA room is only available during the day.

"If I'm at home in the evening when a storm is coming through, I'm not driving back to McClure Elementary to open a safe room for a community: I'm going to shelter with my children," Jimenez said.

With a new safe room approved Tuesday by voters in Sand Springs at Angus Valley Elementary, administrators said they have to keep their rooms private because of liability.

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