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By Jeff Southwick
Editor’s Note: In the aftermath of Orrick’s recent tornado, Richmond schools’ tornado shelter at Dear Elementary takes on renewed relevance. We asked Jeff Southwick, the school district’s director of support services, to update the community on the shelter and its guidelines.
The tornado shelter is owned by the Richmond R-XVI School District and its first function is to provide protection for the Dear Elementary students and staff during tornado and extreme high wind events that take place during school hours (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
The tornado shelter will also be available for residents of the community who do not have basements or other safe rooms and live within what we refer to as the “Tornado Protection Zone.”
The TPZ is intended for tornado protection during normal school hours (8-3, Monday through Friday) during the school year. Due to the time needed to reach the shelter after a tornado warning and a maximum capacity of 849 persons, including the student body and staff, the shelter cannot provide shelter for those living beyond the protection zone.
Some important terms:
SHORT-FUSE WARNING –A warning by the National Weather Service for a local weather hazard of relatively short period of time. Short-fuse warnings include tornado warnings, severe thunderstorm warnings and flash flood warnings. Tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings typically are issued for periods of an hour or less, flash flood warnings are typically for three hours or less.
PRIMARY SHELTER AREA – A room designed to meet all Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications for severe weather and high wind events
AFTER A WARNING – Activating the Shelter Operation Team and implementing the Shelter Operation Plan for evacuating students to the Tornado Shelter:
During normal school hours when a TORNADO WATCH is issued for Ray County, the school district’s director of support services will notify the Dear Elementary principal that the county and the district is under a TORNADO WATCH and that the TORNADO SHELTER will be open and made ready for students and the general public in the TORNADO PROTECTION ZONE to occupy the shelter.
The Shelter Operation Team will be notified and put on alert for instruction to evacuate the students to shelter. Our SPARTAN ALERT parent and patron notification system will be used when possible.
During school hours when a TORNADO WARNING is issued (tornado sirens activated) by the city’s emergency management director or Ray County’s 911 director, Dear Elementary students will be instructed to evacuate their current classrooms and locations and proceed to the Dear Elementary TORNADO SHELTER along prescribed routes (room evacuation route maps are posted on the inside wall by the door of each classroom and distributed to each teacher). Our SPARTAN ALERT parent and patron notification system will be used when possible.
Evacuees requiring aid animals will be allowed to bring the aid animal in the tornado shelter. The evacuee must keep the aid animal on a leash and is to be kept under the owner’s control at all times. Aid animal needs such as water, food, cleaning supplies are to be provided by the owner. The owner is responsible for the actions of the aid animal. Companion animals and other house pets or animals are not allowed in the shelter area due to the space the pets will require which will reduce the amount of space for humans.
School evacuation route plans can be viewed at Dear Elementary. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org