NWS Makes Texas High School The First ‘Storm Ready’ Campus in State
The National Weather Service recognized the school’s tornado preparedness improvements in June.
Timber Creek High School in north Texas was named a ‘Storm Ready School’ by the National Weather Service recently.
The honor is the result of years of hard work and commitment by school officials, who say they realized they needed to improve their emergency preparedness for severe weather events after the May 2013 tornado in Oklahoma that killed seven elementary school students, reports the Star-Telegram.
Jason McLaughlin, who led Timber Creek’s safety team for years before recently moving to another school within the Keller School District, said he plans to help other campuses in the district achieve Storm Ready status and hopes it will encourage other schools in the North Texas region to do the same.
“Schools are built beautifully, but the best environment for learning is not the best environment for safety,” McLaughlin says. “It’s good to be prepared in the event of a disaster, but we pray it doesn’t happen.”
Improving Timber Creek’s Severe Weather Preparedness
Timber Creek High School’s severe weather response plan had involved moving students into hallways, which in some cases had windows. But after watching video surveillance videos of tornados destroying a school, they realized they’d have to improve their tornado response protocols.
“The biggest thing when schools are hit is they didn’t know it was coming,” McLaughlin, who’s a storm chaser in his free time, told the Star-Telegram.
The problem is that Timber Creek has many open common spaces and windows spread across the building, making it difficult to identify an effective shelter location for students.
“It took us a year to figure that out,” Timber Creek Principal Gusti Ratliff says. “We walked every inch of that building.”
When officials decided on a downstairs, windowless room in the building to act as a shelter they had to figure out the best way to quickly move students coming from all over the building without creating a dangerous situation at stairwells.
After protocols were in place, the school conducted drills twice a year with Timber Creek’s 3,200 students. School officials used footage from their security cameras to assess the drills’ success.
“It’s one thing to have a plan on paper and another to really test and work on how long it takes to get to safety,” National Weather Service Warning and Coordination Meteorologist Mark Fox said.
Signs were also placed in every classroom and gathering area directing occupants to the nearest safe shelter.
National Weather Service Makes Timber Creek Storm Ready
The Storm Ready designation is granted to municipalities, universities, military bases and commercial operations.
The cities of Fort Worth and Keller, where Timber Creek High School is located, have already been designated Storm Ready, but no school in Texas had ever been granted that distinction.
To achieve Storm Ready Status, the National Weather Service requires schools to do the following:
- Have a severe weather emergency operations plan
- Identify shelter locations
- Hold at least two tornado drills a year
- Train staff members
- Have at least two ways to get weather information and warning to school staff, students and other members of the campus community both inside and outside the building
- Designate a staff member to monitor hazardous weather information every day
“Storm Ready is going above and beyond the basic level of [emergency] preparedness,” Fox explains.
Timber Creek received Storm Ready honors during a Keller School District board meeting in June.
Now that Timber Creek is Storm Ready, school officials can access “NWS Chat”, which provides real time severe weather updates. Officials can also access the radio frequency where spotters talk about the potential tornadoes forming.
McLaughlin hopes his new school, Fossil Hill Middle School, can also become Storm Ready and, eventually, would like to help every campus in the Keller School District.
Officials at Timber Creek, meanwhile, are continuing to improve their tornado preparedness. Teachers will undergo a training when they return to campus in August and a tornado drill in September will give officials more feedback to consider.
It just goes to show emergency planning never stops.