Okla. tornadoes force local schools to assess severe weather plans


by Gene Kang


Posted on May 21, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Updated Tuesday, May 21 at 6:18 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The devastating tornadoes in Moore, Okla. are on the minds of many school district and safety experts.

Greater Clark County Schools officials are assessing their tornado drills and demonstrated their severe weather plans to WHAS11.

An EF5 level tornado pummeled a school and many homes in Moore, Okla.; the destruction path stretching 17 miles.

The images make local students at Jeffersonville High School uneasy.

"Since it hit a school, it makes you wonder about our school and safety and everything," Jeffersonville High School freshman, Meghan Thrasher, said.

Safety specialist Chris Ralston says during tornado warnings students on upper levels come to the ground floor and move into the hallways. The goal is to move away from open spaces and windows

"The students would simply get down on their knees. Head toward the locker, cover the back of the neck and back of their head and they'll stay in that position until we have the all clear given," Ralston said. "We want them to be a smaller target for the debris as possible. Most of the damage that is done to people is the debris flying around."

Their schools also have tornado shelter areas.

Not long ago Henryville was devastated by tornadoes on March 2 and while they have been able to rebuild their schools and homes, Jeffersonville High School students say they still feel safe.

"For lower level tornadoes being in the interior of a school is sufficient in a well fortified building such as this one," Jeffersonville High School student body president, Nishant Uppal, said.

Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest district in Kentucky, holds at least two tornado drills every year at their 155 schools.

JCPS' Chief Operations Officer, Dr. Michael Raisor, said their safety plan has students crouch down and cover their heads in secure hallways instead of busing them home.

"Think of what would've happened if there were buses running or parents in a pickup line and in a situation like this. It's much more prudent to stay inside of location, inside of a building," Raisor said.

There are detailed tornado safety plans for Oldham, Bullitt and New Albany-Floyd County schools on our website.
Much like Greater Clark County Schools and JCPS, they have multiple tornado drills every school year and have students and staffs go to the interior of the schools for safety.

Director of Communications at Oldham County Schools, Tracy Harris, released the following  statement:

"Over the years, Oldham County Schools officials have developed a safe schools manual used in all our schools — this covers a variety of situations, from natural disasters to intruders to infectious diseases. Each school has a emergency management team that oversees the manual's implementation in their own building and takes on tasks like determining safe locations. The facilities department reviews each school's severe weather safe areas identified by the emergency management team.

"For tornadoes specifically, each school performs four drills each year — two in the fall and two in the spring.

"If a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued, students will followed tornado drill procedures for the building."

"Proper positions for students in a shelter area are:
- Rest on knees, lean forward, cover back of head and neck.
- Sit on floor, cross legs, cover back of head and neck.
- Stand and cover back of head and neck with crossed arms, if space does not permit use of the first or second suggested position."

"The district also has policies in place at the district level to evaluate severe weather threats and determine the safest plan for students, which may be delayed or early dismissal."

Bullitt County Public Schools also released their severe weather plan.

"In the event of severe weather, our students follow severe weather procedures by assembling in safe areas - the lowest floor of the building using interior hallways or rooms.  The staff and students use the drop procedure - dropping to his or her knees, with the head protected by the arms, and the back to the windows (if windows are present).  Students and staff remain in safe area and in position until given an all clear.  Staff supervise students and maintain a list of students for accountability."

"In the event severe weather is forecast and of great concern, we have in the past communicated to parents that they may pick their child up from school.  We typically do not release school early due to the possibility of there being no responsible adult at home in which case students may be safer at school under the care of school staff."

In Indiana, Bill Wiseheart, School Safety Specialist for New Albany Floyd County Schools released this statement:

“We revisited our plans last year and at all of our locations. All of our students are on the first floor or basements levels. We learned from the Henryville tornado. We have multiple drills for severe weather and tornadoes every year. The plans are safer than ever. We are also assessing our buildings in light of the Moore, OK tornadoes. We still believe the interior of a building is still the safest place during severe weather. We reviewed our tornado plans earlier this month during safety inspections with officers and as part of our annual reviews.”