"Safe Schools 101" teaches OK school districts best practices during a tornado

The May tornadoes killed seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary. They destroyed two schools and damaged 54 others.
Now FEMA is teaming up with the Oklahoma Dept. of Emergency Management to make sure schools are better prepared. The program is called Safe Schools 101.

They've enlisted structural engineer Tom Reynolds to help teach local architect and engineer volunteers about the FEMA 361 guidelines for community safe rooms. They're using the guide to recommend the best places for students to hide when a tornado strikes their school.

"You look at the walls, the structural systems, the roof. You also have to think about human factors, issues of who we're trying to protect, where are they coming form and can they get to that location fast enough," Reynolds said.

Their first district target: El Reno. It's aanother city still cleaning up from a rocky tornado season.

"We're trying to learn about how to keep our kids safe," said Jeff Johnson, El Reno Schools Director of Operations.

On Friday the volunteers looked at blueprints and pictures of four district schools, keeping an eye out for windows and other structural issues.

"Part of the design requirement is to withstand a 15 lb two-by-four traveling about 100 miles an hour at the building. It will stop it," Reynolds said.

District leaders say in El Reno the end-plan is for an actual safe room, which the volunteers are also helping plan.

"This we needed a little more help with so they're giving us some good ideas," Johnson said.

But he knows it could take years to get the safe room ready for students to use in an emergency. And when it comes to the lives of children, there's no time to waste. So every school will get it's own plan based on it's structural integrity and vulnerabilities.

The first three months of the program are geared toward districts in the six counties affected by the May tornadoes: Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland, Pottawatomie, Lincoln and McClain. But after March any school district can participate.
Districts can sign up for the program here.