As A Resident Of Tornado Alley, I Think Tornado Safe Rooms In Schools Are A Great Idea

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tornado-house-fieldMy Missouri town, Springfield, is just a stone’s throw away from Joplin, where the 2011 EF5 tornado killed and injured over 1200 people. So this past Tuesday, when there was the possibility of serious storms and tornadoes here, I hesitated taking my daughter to daycare like we usually do. Her daycare is in Nixa, about fifteen minutes outside the magical Springfield plateau that always seems immune to tornadoes. Was Nixa more likely than here to get the worst of the storm? Would my daughter be safer at that facility or at home with me? And what if a tornado formed in Nixa while I sat safely in Springfield? I would probably drive through the storm to get to my baby.

When I read that Springfield public schools have applied for funding to build tornado shelters in three more schools (there are three schools with shelters, currently) I thought this sounded like a great idea. Especially when I read that Sunshine Elementary, the school I’d like my daughter to attend, doesn’t have one.


While Springfield has more than 50 school buildings, so far only three are equipped with a safe room that meets FEMA 361 standards, a room that can withstand the impact of an EF-5 tornado.


One of them is at Jeffries Elementary, where [Dave] Bishop shows off a safe room that was built from pre-stressed concrete, with straps at the ceiling capable of withstanding wind shear. FEMA’s $1.6 million grant paid for 75 percent of the cost of this room, which also serves as the school’s gymnasium and can protect about 500 people. When school’s not in session, it serves as a shelter for residents within a half-mile radius.

It may seem like a luxury or a waste of money to some, but this idea of installing tornado safe rooms in schools really makes sense to me. In the same way that many California buildings are reinforced to withstand earthquakes, tornado safe rooms just seem like a logical precaution for the surrounding environment.

I’m sure being a new mother has an impact on my opinion. Before we had my daughter, my husband and I were more likely to go stand outside and stare at the sky in a storm than get our safety gear and flashlights together. Okay, we’re still likely to go stare at the storm, but only after we have our emergency stuff together and a clear path to the safest room in our apartment.

Truth is, nothing instills both sense of duty and a panicked helplessness during a tornado more than having a small child. One day last summer I remember there wasn’t even a tornado forecast, but I was driving and the wind picked up and I panicked so I pulled over to go inside a nearby restaurant with my daughter until it subsided. People were carrying on with life around me like they were in an alternate universe. I don’t know, maybe I’m just overprotective.

But I’m not sure this goes away when our kiddos grow up. My dad still texts me every time there’s a storm coming, asking if we’re all together, if we’re inside, and if we are listening to the weather — even though he lives just down the road. Last Tuesday his message read: The bathroom across from your office is probably the safest place in your apartment during a tornado.

Thanks, dad. I want to make fun of you, but at the same time, that’s going to be me twenty years from now, so I’ll just shut it.

(photo: EmiliaUngur / Shutterstock)