Norman schools launch tornado plan overhaul

Most folks south of the Metro remember exactly where they were on May 20th.

"The last tornado came we were actually in school and we had all our kids down in the basement," said teacher Jessica Knispel.

Knispel teaches middle school in Norman. But she's also a mom. And she says even after the tragedy at Plaza Towers, where seven children died after the building collapsed, there's only one place she'd want her child to be during a storm.
"If something like this were to happen I'd want my son at school," Knispel said.
Norman Public Schools want all parents to feel more at ease this tornado season. The district says around one third of its schools have shelters.
"We're standing in a gymnasium built to withstand 250 mile-an-hour winds, reinforced concrete ceilings, walls," said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Roger Brown, gesturing to the gym at Truman Elementary School.
For the schools without shelters, around 30 architects, meteorologists and emergency experts will inspect every single building, zoning in on "green zones" where students should take refuge in a storm.
They're doing it free of charge. And the district calls them the "dream team."
"They may go into a facility and say 'well you know this locker room, you're not using this locker room for example this would be a great place to house students,'" Brown said.
When they draw up the new plans they will go straight to fire, police and the emergency management office.
"When severe weather happens, or any emergency, and first responders go to a location they need to know what to expect," explained Norman Emergency Management Coordinator David Grizzle.
District staff members say while they can't control the weather, they can control how they deal with it. In addition to the tornado plan overhaul, they have an intensive structural inspection in the works for their schools. That's a direct reaction to an engineering report outlining major structural issues with Briarwood Elementary School in Moore.
Read the story about the Brairwood structural problems
"Just to make sure, just to check," Brown said.
That way kids can focus on their math problems, instead of the problem of staying safe during severe weather.
"Because I know that's where it's been practiced and I know that's where they're gonna be safe," Knispel said. The idea for the structural inspection is in its early stages. No word yet on what the inspection might cost the district, when implemented. Brown says they will start with a few schools but hope to get an engineer to eventually look at every building.

Administrators say they plan to communicate the new "green zones" to parents after the team of experts evaluates their final school later this month.

Member of the Cleveland County "Dream Team", supplied by Norman Public Schools:

City of Norman

  • Greg Clark, Building Inspector
  • Darryl Troupe, Fire Inspector
  • Todd Gibson, Norman PD

Emergency Management and Safety, including Public Health

  • Chris Klein, Moore-Norman Technological Center, Safety Officer
  • David Grizzle, City of Norman Emergency Management
  • Lisa Teel, University of Oklahoma Emergency Management
  • Shane Cohea, Norman Regional Hospital, Director of Safety, Security, and Emergency Preparedness
  • Amy Allen, Registered Professional Sanitarian Local Emergency Response Coordinator, Cleveland & McClain County Health Departments

State and Federal Weather Agencies

  • Richard Smith, National Weather Service
  • Scott Curl, National Weather Service
  • Bruce Thoren, National Weather Service
  • Harold Brooks, National Severe Storms Laboratory
  • Jim Ladue, National Weather Service
  • Kevin Brown, National Weather Service
  • Michael Scotten, National Weather Service
  • Marc Austin, National Weather Service
  • Robert (Bobby) A. Prentice, National Weather Service
  • Jonathan Kurtz, National Weather Service
  • Ryan Barnes, National Weather Service Roger Edwards, National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center
  • Andrea Melvin, OK Climate Survey/OK Mesonet
  • Andrew Wood, Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS)/University of Oklahoma
  • Greg Stumpf, Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS)/University of Oklahoma
  • Chris Karstens, Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS)/University of Oklahoma

Private Sector Meteorologists

  • Beth Clarke, Weather Decision Technologies
  • JT Johnson, Weather Decision Technologies

Private Industry (ArchitectsEngineers)

  • John W. Buckley, Owner / Principal Architect, Arc Architecture, Norman
  • Larry Curtis, Kirkpatrick Forest Curtis Professional Consultants
  • Gary Armbruster, MA+ Architecture, LLC