Is Your School Storm Ready?

Keeping your students and faculty safe during extreme weather events.

Since 2010, there have been over 40 tornado events across the United States resulting in close to 750 deaths and many more people injured. Two recent outbreaks in particular, in Enterprise, Alabama, in 2007 and Moore, Oklahoma, in 2013, pushed the need for increased school building evaluation methods and more proactive design considerations. In response, FEMA and the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management collaborated on a series of training seminars to help architects, engineers, and emergency planning personnel better assess the preparedness of schools for extreme weather events. These two agencies developed Safe Schools 101, a two-day workshop providing both information and usable tools for the evaluation and design of safer, protected areas within schools.

SAFE SCHOOLS 101 Part one of the Safe Schools workshop focused on the general characteristics of tornados and provided detailed information on the effects and hazards of high-wind situations. Wind both pulls and pushes on buildings and even the lowest scaled tornados have wind speeds exceeding many design and construction standards for withstanding stress conditions. Today thousands of existing schools across all states offer little to no protection against these extreme forces. FEMA defines five levels of protection for weather-related emergencies (see list, next page), and most schools currently are at the lowest level — a basic tornado refuge area deemed safe by school personnel. A clear and consistent method of assessing and evaluating existing schools was shared during part two of the workshop to be used by design professionals and acted upon by each school to raise their level of protection.

HOW ARE SCHOOL BUILDINGS EVALUATED FOR SAFETY? Part of this evaluation method is a checklist for comparing different areas of potential refuge in a building. General knowledge of building construction methods, an intense review of the construction documents if available, and an on-site investigation of the actual building help in completing the checklist and are a part of the overall assessment. A report is then generated, reviewing all the areas investigated and selecting the best possible refuge area or areas along with recommendations to further increase the protection level to a hardened room or area.