The two elementary schools that took direct hits from Monday’s EF-5 Oklahoma tornado apparently did not have reinforced tornado shelters, according to an emergency official.
The official added that more than 100 schools in Oklahoma do have storm shelters for children. However, Plaza Towers Elementary and Briarwood Elementary lacked them.
Seven children were killed at Plaza Towers as they sheltered in above-ground classrooms. Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, explained that each jurisdiction decides which schools receive funding for safe rooms.
Ashwood added that tornado shelters at the two elementary schools may not have helped, considering the devastation the massive tornado caused. He explained:
“When you talk about any kind of safety measures … it’s a mitigating measure, it’s not an absolute. There’s not a guarantee that everyone will be totally safe.”
Despite lacking tornado shelters, several school safety experts have said that the teachers and students in Moore, Oklahoma, were as prepared as they could have been for Monday’s killer tornado. The Oklahoma City suburb is no stranger to devastating twisters.
A tornado struck on May 3, 1999, ripping through the community and killing 36 people. The May 21 tornado that ripped a path from Newcastle to Moore left at least 24 people dead, nine of which were children.
Despite the horror and devastation, school teachers and other officials are being labeled as heroes for shielding their students from debris and responding exactly how they had during countless routine disaster drills. School officials already knew the storm that hit the region on Monday would be bad.
The warning helped them prepare for what could, and did, happen. Ken Trump, a Cleveland-based national school-safety consultant, added:
“When you have any loss of life, especially children, it rips our hearts out. But had the community not had that history, the preparedness lessons learned right in their own back yard, the losses could have been worse.”
Moore Public Schools Superintendent Susan Pierce added that administrators at every school in the storm’s path immediately took action when they heard the severe weather warnings. Moore was given a tornado warning 16 minutes before the killer tornado struck. She added, “When it was time to shelter, we did just that. When our children are at our schools, they are in our care.” The district holds more tornado drill each year than is required.
[Image via Ks0stm]