Push for safe rooms in Iowa schools

School safety is always a priority, no matter the season, but ever since the devastating tornado that hit an Oklahoma town last year and destroyed two elementary schools, there’s been more talk about what to do when severe weather strikes.

Now, there’s a push to get more Iowa schools to add tornado-safe rooms. The state’s top disaster management official, Mark Schouten is endorsing the construction of school safe rooms.

“We do the usual duck and cover, go to the safest part of the rooms but to say we have that type of facility that would withstand those winds, we do not have that,” says Steve Bass, Superintendent of Osage schools.

Bass has been trying for years to get safe rooms for the district, but like many schools in the area, there simply isn’t enough money to build it.

They’ve tried to get grants through FEMA but have run into road blocks.

“The last time several months ago when it was open it literally was opened and closed within 24-hours is my understanding because when we made the contact it was already closed, so I can’t say, we’ve made the attempt, it’s been in discussions for about two years but when that door opens it shuts rather quickly.”

Bass has been in contact with other schools in the area that do have the safe rooms. He’s convinced that it would not just improve safety in the school but also give them more space.

Newman Catholic Schools have had their safe room for about 2 years, and they were able to get a grant written to help pay for it.

“We contacted Homeland Security and he worked with us and we secured we wrote a grant and we received partial funding for our room,
says Lynn Ptacek, Development Director.

When they’re not being used for an emergency, the safe rooms become band and choir rooms.

Just another reason Bass says they’re not giving up on the potential addition.

“We’re not going to close that door just because we haven’t gotten in before we always hope that the next round we’ll get in.”

The safe rooms have also been used for other times of emergency.

For instance, at Newman, leaders put it to use when a false bomb threat was called into the school.

Students and teachers were able to use that room, just in case a real emergency was underway.

So far Newman Schools have not had to use it in a bad weather situation.

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