5th Season: School preparedness in Southwest Oklahoma

Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 7:33 PM CST
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LAWTON, Okla. (TNN) - Oklahoma’s Fifth Season is upon us, when severe weather bears down on Texoma and the spring school semester carries on.

Schools across Oklahoma, including Plato Elementary School in Duncan are preparing for the 5th Season, practicing getting to safety. Every elementary school and Duncan Middle are equipped with safe rooms or storm shelters, except for the high school.

In the event of severe weather, high school students go to the safest place possible. Superintendent Tom Deighan says they are working to change that. Plans are already in motion to build safe rooms in the high school.

“We’re not exactly sure when the safe rooms will be completed at this moment, but we’re just now choosing a construction manager to work with our architect on their design,” said Dr. Deighan.

For Lawton Public Schools, every building has a place to shelter, some, newer than others. The entire 6th grade wing at Eisenhower Middle School is a shelter - one of the most up-to-date and advanced storm shelter LPS has.

“They’re in a full classroom that’s a concrete reinforced tornado shelter so it’s the it’s the best of all the worlds,” said Dr. Jason James, Assistant Superintendent and Chief Operations Officer for Lawton Public Schools.

The new storm shelters, built in seven elementary schools and Ike Middle all have access to fresh air in case power goes out. There’s also a feature that gives the storm shelter a normal, classroom setting - a window.

“This window is rated to take on 250 mph projectiles,” said Dr. James. “It’s a pretty safe system for a tornado shelter.”

A lot of time and money has gone in to building storm shelters in schools across Southwest Oklahoma, but time has also been invested in faculty and staff, making sure they know exactly what to do when severe weather strikes.

“By law schools in the state of Oklahoma have to do tornado drills on a regular basis and we have to report that to the State Department,” said Dr. Deighan.

Dr. James says, “They’re trained multiple times throughout the year on what happens if we do go to a shelter in place so our kids know what to do and our teachers know what to do.”

Although schools are more than prepared for tornadoes, parents are understandably leery about their child. While an early pick-up may seem like the best thing for a family, school officials remind parents they may have to keep their children in a safe place at school, until the storm passes.

“But what parents really need to know more than anything, is if we do go to a shelter in place during school hours, we ask them to be patient because our Emergency Management procedures won’t allow us to let kids go in a dangerous situation,” said Dr. James.

Both Lawton and Duncan Public Schools seek advice from the National Weather Service and our First Alert Weather Team.

“And there’s been several times that I’ve called KSWO and just asked the meteorologist, ‘What’s going on?’ The KSWO meteorology team has always been a great resource for us,” said Dr. Deighan.

Other schools in Southwest Oklahoma also shared their school preparedness plans.

In Altus, the Pre-K, Kindergarten and Primary Schools are in the final stages of building safe rooms, which will be completed this Spring. Rivers Elementary on Altus Air Force Base has a hallway with reinforced walls students will go to. And the remaining four schools have locations to use during severe weather, well away from outside walls and windows.

At Cache Public Schools, every building has a safe room, except for the field house and gym. Superintendent Chad Hance says there are procedures in place that allows faculty to get students to those safe rooms as quickly as possible.

In Chattanooga, high school and junior high students will go to a storm shelter located at the high school. Students in 4th through 6th grade use the underground dressing room in the old gym, and Pre-K up to 3rd grade are located inside an old bank, so students use the vault to stay safe.

And Walters Public Schools has several locations. The elementary school goes to an underground storm shelter, the secondary school uses the locker rooms in the gym that are underground and surrounded by cinder block walls and steel bleachers.

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