The horrible EF5 tornado that virtually erased homes and schools from the face of the Earth in Moore, Okla., has blown open the doors for discussion of school and public storm protection in Lawrence.
Lawrence and Douglas County have no storm shelters that are open to the public on a regular basis, and the Lawrence public schools have no facilities with Federal Emergency Management Agency safe rooms.
City commissioners have asked the city staff to examine the city’s building codes to see whether standards should be changed or new ones adopted to provide community storm shelters or other protections. Jillian Rodrigue, assistant director of Douglas County Emergency Management, said her agency would welcome a discussion of how the community could improve its severe-weather defenses.
One point to keep in mind as this issue proceeds may be that the geology in Lawrence is significantly different from that in Moore. Most homes in Moore didn’t have basements, in large part because they’re built on rock formations that make excavation significantly more expensive than digging through the clay in Lawrence, where many homes do indeed have basements. That difference means that shelter of some sort generally is within reach of Lawrence residents.
But not in schools.
Eudora and Baldwin have used FEMA grants to provide safe rooms in schools. Lawrence schools have asked that FEMA guidelines be considered in designing projects that will be part of the $92.5 million bond issue residents recently authorized.
Rodrigue, however, pointed out that FEMA standards recommend public shelters be located within five minutes of a person’s home, and noted that to meet that standard would require numerous shelters in Lawrence. Additional infrastructure and personnel to manage the shelters during severe weather also would be needed, she noted.
Personal responsibility rises to the top of any discussion of considerations.
It’s wise to have these discussions and to evaluate the issues. It’s worthwhile to review our building codes. It’s prudent to ask questions about how safety is addressed in our school buildings. Determining the extent of necessary changes and improvements and accepting the cost of implementing them ultimately will be the focal point of public discussion.
Perhaps we can learn something from the rebuilding that has been done in Joplin, Mo., and that will be accomplished in Moore.