PrattTribune - Pratt, KS
  • Local schools well prepared for tornadoes

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  • Images of shattered school buildings in Moore, Okla. from the May 20 EF5 tornado made an indelible imprint on the minds of parents across the country
    On May 4, 2007 an EF5 tornado leveled the school buildings in Greensburg and those images are still strong even after six years.
    A tornado hitting a school while it is in session is a nightmare that came true for Moore.
    If such an event were to happen in Pratt, the school districts have plans in place and a place to go for every student and teacher in the building.
    The Administrative Center for Excellence building, Pratt High School and Liberty Middle School each have one tornado drill in the fall and two in the spring. Southwest Elementary has two drills in the fall and two in the spring, said Suzan Patton, USD 382 Superintendent.
    At the ACE building, faculty and staff head for the lower level and the locker rooms. Drills are taken seriously through out the district. After a drill, the staff and administration gather to discuss what worked and what might need to go better.
    Patton said she wants to get safe rooms built but funding is currently unavailable however she hopes for future outlay money for those projects and will be open for discussion. When severe weather threatens, she keeps track of the situation monitoring the weather channel on her cell phone.
    At Pratt High School the students and faculty head for the lower level and into the four dressing rooms beside the gym. The rooms have reinforced brick and no windows.
    "Structurally, it's about as strong as you can get," said PHS Principal Steve Blankenship. "We've probably got the safest building in the district."
    The four rooms and the hall way just outside the rooms can handle about 380 students plus from 40 to 50 staff depending on the number of staff in the building.
    At Liberty Middle School, students are directed to the lower level and into hallways and classrooms that have no exterior windows, said Principal Tony Helfrich.
    Students at Southwest Elementary don't have an underground option but they are all gathered in the restrooms with interior concrete block walls and no exterior windows, Patton said
    At USD 438, Skyline has no underground facilities but they do have a bunker in the gym. The dressing rooms on the east side of the gym and under the bleachers are a steel reinforced bunker with a concrete roof.
    Although FEMA approved shelters didn't exist in 1967 when the building was constructed, the bunker meets today's standards for a FEMA shelter, said Skyline Superintendent Mike Sanders.
    After the Greensburg tornado in 2007, a structural engineer was brought in to evaluate the bunker in the gym. The results revealed that the bunker is a substantial storm facility and would meet today's FEMA regulations.
    Page 2 of 2 - "The specifications are like a FEMA approved shelter," Sanders said. "That eased our minds. We felt better about putting students in the locker rooms in the gymnasium."
    Skyline also has an outdoor shelter that meets FEMA regulations. The restroom adjoining the concessions area and weight room was built specifically as a tornado shelter. Plans for the room was already made but after the Greensburg tornado those plans were revised so the room could stand a direct hit from a tornado, Sanders said.
    Pratt Community College also has areas in the event of severe weather. Tornado drills are held each spring, said Kent Adams, vice president for finance and operations. PCC buildings and safety areas: Bensen Education Center-lower commons level; Novotny Hall-basement; Wojciechowski Hall (East Hall)-reinforced stairwells; Beck Hall-interior hallways; North Hall-first floor interior hall; Porter Hall-interior hall or Wojciechowski Hall stairwells; Scholarship Hall-ground floor halls and restrooms or Wojciechowski Hall stairwells; Riney Student Center-basement; Chandler Hall-reinforced concrete kiln room; Electric Power Technology; Wojciechowski Hall stairwells; Ag power and Gwaltney Hall; Benson Education Center-lower commons.
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