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Moore Devastation Incites School Safety Policy Review

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COMANCHE COUNTY, Okla _The two Moore Elementary Schools devastated by Monday's tornado left many parents questioning the safety of their child's school. 

In Lawton and surrounding communities, many of the schools are older and lack safe rooms or underground shelters. That causes students to have to take cover in bathrooms or hallways if the school were in the path of a storm.  

We spoke with experts in architecture and construction to learn more about current policies and structures and how safe they keep our students. 

In the wake of devastation, people begin to question current policies and procedures. Yet we learned Thursday that there are no hard and fast solutions, and many of the things that schools are already doing to protect their students still provide their best chance of survival.

If you went to a school without a shelter, you probably remember the drill.  Students file into the hallway. Get down onto their knees and cover their head. Some may take cover in bathrooms and any other small spaces that do not have windows. But after two schools in Moore took direct hits from an EF 5 tornado and at least 200 mile per winds, people began to question the safety of that practice.

An engineer and architect told us that every school building is different, so there's no single safety plan that works for every building. While safe rooms or a shelter are the preferred option, in a school with neither,  the hallway or a small space is the safest place for a student to be.  That's the case for most of the schools in Lawton, many of which were built before 1970.

The age of the building and the type of materials used also play a role in the safety of a building if a tornado were to hit.  But, even current Oklahoma building codes don't require safe rooms in schools.

Lack of financial resources make it hard for the state to mandate such shelters.  Oklahoma's weather is incredibly unpredictable.  For schools funding, safe rooms can easily add hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions to the cost.  It's a challenge to convince voters to pay higher property taxes to protect against something that might never happen to their school. 

Currently, very few schools in Oklahoma have safe rooms and Alabama is the only state to require safe zones in all new school buildings.

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