Oklahoma Tornadoes Spark Conversation About School Safe Rooms

By Nadia Crow, Reporter

ANAMOSA, Iowa- More than 100 schools in Oklahoma have FEMA approved safe rooms, but not the two elementary schools that Monday's Oklahoma tornado destroyed. And some people are asking why.

It's quite the process to get a FEMA approved safe room. The goal is to protect students and staff from a major weather event. The biggest concerns: cost, availability of funds, and time.

"It's just scary. You think of losing a child at any time in any way," said Anamosa Superintendent Brian Ney.

Anamosa Superintendent Brian Ney can't help but wonder if what could have been avoided in Oklahoma schools if they had safe rooms like the one at Anamosa Middle School.

They are concrete block structure with re-enforcing rods the roof has to be a certain thickness of concrete slabs," said Ney.

It's a sturdy portion of the new middle school that's used year round as a boy's locker room and multi-purpose room. But if severe weather strikes the safe room secures students and staff from winds up to 250 miles per hour; the highest FEMA rating. But this space came with a more than $722,000 price tag.

"It is truly cost. And some district might be a little different to add on and where do we put it and what are we going to use it on it's the total cost of 15% of the FEMA portion," said Ney.

"If you don't do it right if you don't follow the rules then you jeopardize the funding once you started," said Architect Mike Gumm.

Architect Mike Gumm uses this binder detailing all of the FEMA guidelines to talk to clients, school districts, about what it takes to have a safe room. This construction document outlines the FEMA specifics and the design of a building with a safe room in this shaded area. Filing out the application, going through all the checklists, and construction of the project is usually a three year ordeal.

"There are a lot of lives to protect, you want to get it right," said Gumm.

Right now, the state of Iowa used up all of its FEMA dollars from the floods of 2008. In order for another school district or public building to apply for a grant, another disaster must strike that brings in more dollars.
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