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Texas School Safety Center urges severe weather preparedness in schools

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
April 28, 2014

Thunderstorms and tornadoes that swept through parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas during the last weekend in April are another reminder that schools must prepare for many hazards that can affect them, including severe weather. The Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) at Texas State University, through its planning guidance and audit processes works closely with schools to help them prepare for a variety of natural hazards.

“The safety of our schools and our students is important to us and to our communities,” said Victoria Calder, TxSSC director. “While we cannot predict when and where a storm will occur, we can make sure that our schools are prepared for them.”

Predicting the exact path of a tornado is difficult; however National Weather Service (NWS) information is available in a variety of forms including the American Red Cross’ Tornado App for electronic devices and the NWS All-Hazards Monitoring System weather radio or Wireless Emergency Alerts. Weather tools like these can provide notifications of hazards —including for severe thunderstorms and tornado watches or warnings — in a certain geographic location. It therefore is important for school administrators, students and parents to understand what the alerts mean, including the difference between a watch and a warning, and the fact that storms can strike with very little warning.

A tornado watch is issued by the National Weather Service when tornados are possible in an area. This is the time to remind school staff of the identified safest places within the campus and prepare these locations to serve as storm shelters.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted, or indicated by weather radar. It is time to move students, staff and visitors to a tornado shelter location immediately.

Campuses should also monitor local news for weather updates. When dangerous severe weather or a tornado is approaching, administrators must be prepared to take immediate action for the safety of the staff and students. In particular, this means initiating protective measures, such as bringing everyone inside particularly when lightning is in the area.

Also, one of the most important parts of tornado safety for schools is to develop tornado response guidelines based on each building’s unique design so that students, staff and visitors can move quickly to the safest locations when severe weather threatens. During some severe weather or tornado incidents there may be limited time to direct all occupants into safe areas, or there may be limits on the space in lower floor areas to accommodate everyone. District and school staff should use planning and drills to evaluate the time, space, traffic flow and coordination needed to move everyone to the safest locations in an organized manner.

TxSSC provides planning guidance for school officials to help them integrate severe weather into emergency plans including support to provide training and conduct drills for the plan. That information is available at http://txssc.txstate.edu/.

For additional information, contact: Jo Schweikhard Moss at (877) 304-2727.