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Oklahoma City tornado sparks discussion of building code standards at Lawrence City Hall


It didn’t take long for the tales of tragedy in Moore, Okla., to cause at least one city leader to begin asking questions of whether Lawrence is adequately prepared for a similar natural disaster.

City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer raised questions at last night’s City Commission meeting about whether Lawrence’s building codes for public buildings, like schools, are adequate when it comes to providing shelter from tornadoes.

“I think it would behoove us to look at ways to make our school buildings safer,” Farmer said. “If we don’t, shame on us.”

Farmer's comments Tuesday night came after he first broached the subject on his Facebook page earlier in the day. From his page: “I understand that natural disasters happen. I understand that we have better things in place to enhance warnings. But if we parade children into a hallway and tell them to cover their necks with their hands, and an EF-5 comes rolling through town, it won't matter. It’s time we stop making excuses for lives being taken because we were too irresponsible to think outside of a box, or too cheap to make sure this NEVER happens again.

“Reinforced tunnels, underground schools. Something. Smarter people than me are thinking about this. We have to figure something out. Innocent lives being taken because we didn't act when we possessed the innovation to stop it is unacceptable to me.”

Commissioners asked Planning Director Scott McCullough to produce a report summarizing what Lawrence’s building codes require in the way of storm shelters in public buildings and whether there are feasible additions that could be made to the code.

I would look for that report in the next few weeks.

As for what is really possible, I don’t know. Lawrence Public Schools spokeswoman Julie Boyle told me Lawrence public schools don’t have FEMA designated safe rooms, but obviously they do have plans to locate students and staff to interior portions of the buildings, which are better designed to withstand severe weather.

We’ll see how much, if any, serious discussion the idea of stricter building standards gets at City Hall.

Tuesday’s discussion arose after Mayor Mike Dever asked whether the city was planning to send any personnel to the Oklahoma City area to assist with the devastation following this week’s tornado.

City Manager David Corliss said the city hadn’t yet been asked for any assistance, but he plans to spread an offer of assistance to public administration officials he knows in the Oklahoma City area.

“I certainly will make it clear that we are available to do that,” Corliss said.


Keith Richards 5 years ago

It would seem to be a perfect time to consider additional safety measure while doing the bond issue. The schools are adding security measure to protect against and armed intruder, while fully neglecting what is probably a much bigger threat, severe weather.

Lisa Medsker 5 years ago

I had the same thought... They ARE renovating, anyway, so it would make sense to modify buildings to withstand weather we will probably eventually see. An "interior room" isn't going to cut it if we have a storm with the magnitude of those in Joplin or Oklahoma City.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years ago

"weather we will probably eventually see"???

It is a certainty we will see it, look at how many times Lawrence has been hit by tornadoes in the last 100 + years. And yes, people have died in Lawrence from tornado strikes. Fortunately, there has been only one fatality from a tornado in Lawrence in the last 30 years or so, that was in 1981 or 1982, but in 1911, there were two people killed, and the town was devastated.

Lisa Medsker 5 years ago

Holy cow... The last one I had heard about was the 2003 microburst/tornado. (Conflicting reports...) Even in 1981 or '82, one fatality is one that probably could have been avoided, with adequate shelter/warning technology. Seems to me, too, that the longer we go without seeing a deadly storm, our chances only increase, year by year, numerically speaking.

My daughter told me that her school practices "tornado drills", and they are told to exit the classroom, because of the glass windows, and crouch against the wall in the hallway, which also has glass windows. Not much sense-makey going on, there. Totally, 100% agree with KRichards, that as long as we're renovating, why not create a "safe room", or several? A storm with capability of causing fatalities is MUCH more likely to happen than an armed intruder.

oldbaldguy 5 years ago

the heart of america council recognized the need, that is why there are real storm shelters at each camp site at Camp Naish in Bonner Springs and the council is doing the same thing at Camp Bartle in Missouri. It takes money and the desire to do it.

blindrabbit 5 years ago

Why not (not being big brother):

  1. Require all mobile home parks to require approved tie-downs and provide a park based storm shelter facilities.

  2. Require all new subdivisions that do not have below ground basements to provide a subdivision storm shelter or require slab homes be built with individual storm shelter rooms.

  3. Require all apartment building to provide storm shelter space adequate to accommodate all residents in a emergency.

  4. Review requirements for all other public building to provide adequate storm shelter protection, schools, hospitals, etc., etc.

Phoghorn 5 years ago

Such a bill might not pass (neither at the state or fed level), but governments do often print instructional bulletins and handbills (ie WW II posters). Perhaps something like "always check for basements or shelters when deciding where to rent/live".

Clark Coan 5 years ago

In a related matter, I hope all of the taller buildings have lightning rods. I know KU didn't until Hoch Auditorium burned.

Phoghorn 5 years ago

The ironic thing is Hoch was scheduled to be fitted with lightning rods just a few days after the lightning bolt struck.


Budgets_Smudgets 5 years ago

I didn't know city commissioners make design decisions relative to school district buildings

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