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Examiner
  • School safety plans vary among districts

  • After the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., that destroyed two elementary schools, many in the education community are going back over safety plans in case something of that magnitude happens in Eastern Jackson County.

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  • After the devastating tornado in Moore, Okla., that destroyed two elementary schools, many in the education community are going back over safety plans in case something of that magnitude happens in Eastern Jackson County.
    Unlike the Joplin tornado two years ago that hit on a Sunday and heavily damaged or destroyed a number of buildings within the school district, the Moore tornado occurred in mid-afternoon just as school was letting out. District officials kept students in the building, rather than sending them home. While there were no casualties at one elementary, those at Plaza Towers Elementary were not so lucky. Seven children died at that school when part of the building collapsed.
    And that naturally makes people in this area wonder how safe local schools are and what plans exist to help students and teachers survive a tornado. Here is a sampling of what's in place:
    “Each building has been evaluated by trained personnel to determine the ‘hardest areas,” said Blue Springs Superintendent Paul Kinder. “These are areas that are central to each facility and away from exterior windows.”
    Neither of the schools in Moore, Okla., had safe rooms or storm shelters, and because of the type of soil in Oklahoma, not many homes or facilities have basements. In Eastern Jackson County, there are only a handful of actual “storm shelters.” MCC-Blue River has a shelter large enough for 1,000 people. The 16-inch walls are designed to withstand an EF-5 tornado, which is what hit both Moore and Joplin. In addition to Blue River, MCC-Longview, MCC-Business and Technology Center, MCC-Maple Woods and MCC-Penn Valley have similar shelters.
    The Blue Springs School District is in the FEMA grant process to construct two shelters - at James Lewis and James Walker elementary schools. Grants are available to eligible groups to eliminate risks to the public during a disasters. FEMA grants cover up to 75 percent of a project’s cost.
    If the grant application is successful, the shelters would not only be open to students and staff at the schools, but also accessible to those visiting nearby parks in the event of a tornado warning.
    For facilities without a storm shelter, students are moved to the interior sections of the building.
    John Ruddy, assistant superintendent for support services in Fort Osage, said the district works with first responders to assess which areas of the building are safest from a tornadic threat.
    “Areas of the building are assessed to provide the greatest degree of protection from severe weather,” he said. “Sections of the building with long, high and unsupported roofs such as the gymnasium and cafeteria are not used as shelter.”
    In Independence, two safe-room storm shelters are in progress, one at McCoy Park and one right across from Pioneer Ridge Middle School at George Owens Nature Park. The shelters, supported by FEMA grant funding, will provide shelter to visitors to the parks as well as to Pioneer Ridge.  
    Page 2 of 2 - Grain Valley Superintendent Roy Moss said, as with all school districts, they regularly practice for tornados, fires, building lockdowns and other emergency situations.
    “They move to these designated areas in the event of a (weather) emergency,” he said. “These are inner hallways, some classrooms and restrooms of the school buildings.”
     

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