Mt. Vernon Register-News

May 25, 2013

Local schools make tornado safety a priority

By TRAVIS MORSE
travis.morse@register-news.com

---- — MT. VERNON – Superintendent Michael Smith said Mt. Vernon Township High School is prepared for the threat posed by tornados.

Weather safety has become a hot-button issue nationally after a tornado ripped through parts of Moore, Okla., and neighboring areas May 20, killing at least 24 people, including nine children. The violent storm destroyed two elementary schools in Moore while school was in session.MVTHS holds a minimum of two severe weather drills a year. During the drills, students are taken to select locations at the campus, depending on which building they are in.Generally, students are moved to interior spaces like hallways, but some of the buildings have lower levels where the students can be taken, Smith said.“As far as response time and procedures, I think we're in good shape,” Smith said. “We do have some aged buildings so it's probably not a perfect situation, but as far as making the best of what we have – structures and safe areas – we feel we're about in as good a shape as we can be.”Earlier this spring, the MVTHS preparedness system was put to the test when there was a tornado warning issued for this area.During the incident, MVTHS students remained in their designated safe areas for roughly 20 minutes before law enforcement gave school officials the “all clear” signal, Smith said.“We had that real world application,” Smith said. “We had a chance to monitor and follow through and I'm pleased with how it went.”District 80 schools hold at least one tornado drill exercise a year with staff and students, typically in late February or early March, said Superintendent Mike Green.Posted in every room at District 80 schools are the locations where students should be taken for tornado drills, Green said.“We do feel like we're well-prepared,” Green said. “It's part of our crisis plan. It's discussed at faculty meetings.”Even so, it's hard for any school or agency to be completely prepared, given the unpredictable nature of tornados, said Steve Lueker, coordinator of Jefferson County's Emergency Management Agency.“I don't think any of us are truly prepared. We never are and we never will be,” Lueker said. “But we are better prepared now than we were five years ago. The National Weather Service and NOAA have done a great job giving us more time in advance, but still things happen.”Lueker predicted that Oklahoma school officials may be treated harshly by the public and media in the wake of the tragedy. However, it may be that students in the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore were in the safest place they could have been at the time, but that it still wasn't enough to protect all of them, Lueker said. Seven of the nine children who died were killed at that school.“Just because you're in the safest building in town doesn't mean you'll survive,” Lueker said.