For example, if your school has 560 students, 75 staff members and three students in wheelchairs, your equation would be:
(635 x 5) + (3 x 10) = 3,205 square feet of shelter space needed.
Keep in mind that people who are being sheltered will be sitting on the floor in the “duck and cover” position. As part of your planning, you should take into account that FEMA considers two hours as the maximum time of occupancy. After that amount of time, people can leave the shelter to head elsewhere, provided the storm has moved on and depending on any damage.
6. Avoid Buildings With Large Roof Spans
Roof span is an important consideration when placing a shelter area. This is the length of the beams that support the roof. Also important is the direction of the beams. The tremendous stresses created by a tornado can quickly overwhelm the ability of a roof beam to continue to support its share of the weight of the roof, and to help provide structural integrity for the walls.
Related Article: Video Highlights Campus Tornado Preparedness
The maximum roof span is 25 feet. Anything over that, and you will risk increasing the probability of roof and/or wall failure during an extreme-wind event. Long hallways are still viable, as usually roof beams are perpendicular to the hallway. That being said, it is best to check by taking a look at the blueprints for the school.
7. Carefully Assess Using Hallways as Shelters
The use of hallways during an extreme-wind event has been debated extensively, especially after the Joplin, Mo., and now the Henryville, Ind., tornadoes. Video footage shows wind-blown debris speeding through the hallways, creating great fears that students sheltering in those hallways could be injured or killed by the debris.
Hallways that open to the outside should be the last place used because the doors at the end will likely fail, and students would then be subjected to wind-borne debris. However, my review of the research has not shown a significant number of fatalities from wind-borne debris. The vast majority of fatalities in an extreme-wind event come from students being buried under collapsed walls and roofing material.
8. Follow the 2-Wall Rule
When selecting your best possible shelter area, make sure that there are a minimum of two walls between that area and the outside.
An exterior wall of a hallway at Henryville Elementary collapsed onto the floor. Had anyone been sheltering there, they would have been buried under brick, masonry, drywall and other construction materials.
A number of students took shelter in the windowless nurse’s office inside of Henryville High School. That office was in the east side of an interior courtyard and was next door to the main office. Right outside of that office, the north wall of the courtyard collapsed into a computer classroom. That collapse occurred 15-20 feet from the nurse’s office. The hallway on the inside of that classroom remained structurally sound, although a bank of lockers was knocked off of its mounts from the force of the collapse.
9. Plan for Students With Special Needs
Students with special needs should be factored into your planning. Not only do you need more space for wheelchair-bound students, but remember that many students with special needs do not react well to change, and an extreme wind event will create major changes. Remember that the time to plan for their needs is before you need to meet those needs.
10. Equip Your Shelter Areas
You will need emergency equipment for your shelter areas. FEMA recommends one flashlight (with continuously charging batteries) per 10 occupants, as well as a first aid kit. They also recommend a NOAA weather radio (with batteries), and a radio (with batteries) that can pick up commercial stations. An extra supply of batteries is recommended, as well as a device that will create a piercing sound without a power source (Such as an air horn), to be used to signal rescue workers if you get trapped in the shelter. You should have a communications device other than a landline phone. After a tornado, cell phone coverage may be spotty, although SMS text messages will often work even if cell phone calls will not.
11. Work With Local Emergency Management
School administrators need to develop a professional relationship with their local emergency management agency director. This relationship will provide a means for the EMA director to send you warnings of severe weather. He/she can also serve as a resource for your vulnerability assessment. In Indiana, our local EMA director provided training that allowed us to access the Indiana Department of Homeland Security’s WebEOC, an online resource for reporting and tracking incidents.
Related Article: Recent Tornado Outbreaks That Have Affected Schools
12. Formulate Campus Closure Policies
Develop a written policy that allows the school the capability to pre-emptively close ahead of severe weather warnings received from the EMA director. Spell out, in writing, under what conditions school may be released early. If one is not currently used, obtain and properly test a reverse 9-1-1 system or emergency notification system to instantly communicate with your patrons.
13. Keep an Eye on the Sky
If a tornado watch is issued, then conditions are right for the formation of tornadoes, and you should be in a heightened state of alert. Monitor weather radar to track storms, local TV stations and commercial radio; curtail outdoor activities, and have your staff locate their emergency kits and equipment so they can be grabbed at a moment’s notice. This would be a good time to review the locations of your best available shelter areas and the routes to get to them. Transportation staff should be notified and placed on alert. Keep an eye on the sky.
Related Article: Photos of Henryville High School Tornado Aftermath
A tornado warning means that a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take shelter immediately! Look for the danger signs in the sky: Dark, often greenish sky, large hail, a large, dark, low-lying cloud, especially if you notice rotation, and/or a loud roar, similar to a freight train. If you find yourself outside, get into a low-lying area or dry ditch and lie flat.
14. Assess Injuries and Damages
After the storm has passed, assess yourself for injuries, and then begin to assess others. Watch out for fallen power lines. Listen to the radio for instructions. Power will most likely be out, so use your flashlights to help you assess the situation. Never use candles or mantle-lanterns as natural gas may be present, and the debris is likely to contain flammable materials.
Close Windows During a Tornado
A common myth claiming that open windows will equalize pressure and minimize damage needs to be dispelled. What this does is allow wind to enter the building, leading to over pressurization of the structure, causing more damage. Many of the windows used in the schools in Henryville were double-paned, laminated safety glass. There were numerous instances where the outer pan broke, but the inner pane held, helping to maintain the structural integrity of that part of the building.
Most of the windows of both Henryville schools were double-paned, laminated glass. Note the failure of the outer pane, but not the inner pane. This was common around the schools, until you got close to the impact point.&