In the last seven years, approximately 32 facilities classified as “safe rooms” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been built statewide in public school districts or community colleges throughout Missouri. FEMA notes that an additional nine projects are in progress, according to the most recent information available to the agency.
However, in the immediate Bootheel coverage area of the Daily Dunklin Democrat, only one school offers this kind of facility, although others insist that their building’s remain structurally sound and meet standard safety guidelines. Schools talked to in the local area include Senath-Hornersville, Southland, Kennett, Holcomb and Delta C-7.
Of these districts, Southland Public Schools, located at Cardwell, is the only one to have a building on its campus that meets FEMA “safe room” guidelines. The building was an extension to its existing classrooms and was constructed around 2006. It houses multi-purpose rooms, additional learning labs and a few classrooms for the elementary students. Former superintendent Raymond Lasley, a long-term administrator for the district, was in on the deal when it was inked and confirmed that the hallway of the new addition is engineered to meet all FEMA standards.
“The floor, walls and ceiling are made of reinforced concrete,” Lasley detailed. “The doors, hinges, and locking mechanisms all meet FEMA standards to withstand 100-mile per hour winds for a period of up to 30 minutes, and the glass in the doors is made of an approved shatterproof material.”
According to Lasley, the hallway is approximately 150-foot in length and 12-foot wide in most places. He said it is large enough to accommodate all of Southland’s students in an emergency and procedures are in place, which the students are well versed in, in the event a storm hits on campus.
“The cost difference between a regular hallway and a safe hallway was negligible,” Lasley added, in terms of the costs associated with including these extra specifications. Southland footed the bill for the building project on its own, fully funded through reserve money and what administrator’s called a “sizable surplus budget due to good management of the school’s funds.”
Current Superintendent of Southland Schools, Kim Campbell, said that there is no official policy approved through the school’s Board of Education in regard to the “community use” of the facility, or any other building on campus. However, the administrator did note that board members held a discussion in recent months regarding this topic and that although they have yet to create a formal policy, all were in agreement that the “safe room” facility, in addition to other structurally sound buildings on campus could potentially be used by the public during after-school hours in the event of an emergency situation.
“We all felt it was a really good idea,” Campbell said.
Like many school, space constraints lessen the possibility of the school opening its doors to the public in the event of a tornado or other natural disaster or emergency situation during school hours. The school and its facilities are able to effectively house the large number of students enrolled, but anything beyond that would be contrary to the goal of providing a safe setting.
“We just don’t have the room to bring the public in while the students are at school,” explained Holcomb Superintendent Jeff Bullock. “Because of a substantial increase in student enrollment in recent years, we are barely able to contain all of our kids. Our main concern is protecting our students, so for that reason, they are the priority in emergency situations. We certainly would not turn anyone away, but advertising for the public to come to our campus during an emergency during school hours just isn’t safe or feasible.”
Holcomb Schools does not offer anything in the way of a FEMA-approved safe room, like many schools in the immediate area which are unable to do so, mostly due to budget constraints and limited funding. Most school administrators rely on its community centers and local government to address the needs of the public in emergencies, but are willing to open their doors when the need is there and its possible.
Although, it too, does not offer a FEMA-approved “safe room,” Delta C-7, located at Deering, has demonstrated this willingness, opening its door following tornado destruction throughout the area in recent years. Superintendent Kenny Copley said that the school has allowed the public to utilize its shower facilities and such following that disaster and similar ones in the past. The district also considered opening its facility for evacuees of the recent flooding that took place in Southeast Missouri. The plan was to allow the American Red Cross to coordinate emergency disaster services via the campus for community members in need. School officials were supportive of this, but it ended up not being needed, according to Copley.
At Senath-Hornersville, the outlook is similar. The school does not have an approved “safe room” but has frequently opened its facilities in both Hornersville and Senath for public use. Superintendent Larry Wood said that it is common practice within the district, considering the number of rural, house-trailers and similar residential spaces that don’t offer families much security during a bad storm.
Wood explained that although there is no official policy regarding the practice, it is well-known and supported among board members and staff that outside of protecting the interest of students enrolled on campus, the school is a place of support and safety for the public during emergencies.
As with other schools, Wood said, accommodation issues exist because of limited space, but that no one would be turned away who needs shelter before, during or after the storm.
In the Kennett School District, Superintendent Chris Wilson said there are no policies in place regarding the use of one of the buildings in the event of a storm.