I-Team: Illinois schools lack tornado 'safe rooms'

May 21, 2013 5:16:10 PM PDT
Hardly any Illinois public schools have reinforced "safe rooms" to protect students from tornadoes, even though Illinois has nearly as many tornadoes each year as Oklahoma.

And the federal government has a program that provides funds to build safe rooms.

The first school safe room in the U.S. was built 13 years ago here in Wichita, Kansas after a twister wrecked part of an elementary school. Now 60 Wichita schools have heavily fortified, windowless rooms financed by federal emergency officials.

"FEMA'S criteria for a safe room is [based on] 250 mile per hour winds and a missile impact from a 15 lb. 2x4 traveling at 100 miles per hour. And based on our research we believe that sets a high enough criteria or threshold that anybody that builds a safe room per FEMA'S recommendation has near absolute protection," said FEMA civil engineer Bob Franke.

And schools across Oklahoma have been similarly outfitted with safe rooms. One hundred schools now have them.

"Unfortunately the two schools that were hit were not funded for safe rooms," said Albert Ashwood, of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

Those two schools were hit by Monday's EF-5 tornado in Moore, Okla., during which at least seven students died.

"They weren't applied for by those schools. I'm saying you have limited amount of funds that are based on disasters you've had in the past that are used for mitigation measures," said Ashwood.

Illinois has nearly as many tornadoes each year as Oklahoma.

In Illinois, emergency officials say only two downstate public schools have safe rooms-surprising because Illinois is in the middle of four twister hot spots, including the so-called Hoosier Alley.

Among the cities without any school safe rooms: suburban Plainfield, which was clobbered by an F5 tornado in 1990- the only F5 ever to hit the U.S. in the month of August.

Twenty-nine people died, 350 were hurt. Homes, businesses, a church and Plainfield High School were toppled.

Twenty-five new schools have been built since then- and Plainfield officials tonight say they have discussed asking for FEMA-funded safe rooms but decided against it.

Plainfield school officials tonight say their newly-constructed schools do have reinforced corridors and other safety measures- but the designer of Plainfield's schools says that some tornadoes are not survivable.

For information about Safe Rooms visit:
http://www.fema.gov/safe-room-resources

For questions, contact the FEMA Safe Room Helpline at:
saferoom@fema.dhs.gov or 866-222-3580

Hazard Mitigation Assistance (HMA) Helpline at:
hmagrantshelpline@hds.gov or 866-222-3580


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