In the ’50s, many communities developed public bomb shelters to protect residents from nuclear attack. In the ’60s and ’70s, many of those shelters became designated storm shelters, especially in Tornado Alley.

But now the trend in most cities is away from public shelters and more personal responsibility. The need for storm sheltes was on the minds of many Edmond residents Tuesday during severe weather, but the storm passing through the city didn’t spawn a tornado.

Edmond City Manager Larry Stevens said at one time the city used two public schools as designated shelters.

“But they’re too small now. I don’t even know if they would hold 500 people,” he said.

Bret Towne, director of operations for Edmond Public Schools, said at one time Will Rogers and Northern Hills elementary schools were used as designated shelters. But he said making them available after school hours is not feasible.

“There are times when school is over and the building gets secured and people are cleaning at night and it’s really difficult for us to monitor a front door for someone who wants to come in,” he said.

“We are not set up to open up and monitor the comings and goings of people to a basement area or a safe room.”

Stevens said the topic of public shelters comes up once or twice a year among city officials.

“We have always encouraged our citizens to develop their own personal emergency plans using shelters they own or are aware of with neighbors,” he said.

Towne said the newer schools in Edmond are equipped with safe rooms. “Any new school built since 1990 has FEMA 300 mile per hour plus storm shelters in the classrooms.”

He said safety drills are practiced twice a year prior to tornado season starting in the spring.

“They have signs in the classroom where to go not only for tornado but for fire. Every school has worked with either civil defense, emergency management or the fire department to determine the best location for sheltering if they don’t have a tornado shelter.”

And pre-planning is the best preventive measure a resident can do, said Edmond’s Emergency Management Director Matt Stillwell.

“What you need to do as an individual and take an inventory of your risks. If I’m in the direct path of a storm, what do I do? It depends on what you have pre-planned,” he said.

The problem with operating public storm shelters is putting a life at risk, Stillwell said.

“We’re not a small town anymore so you’ve got the traffic issues. So what kind of predicament does that put them in to open a shelter in the path of a storm?”

Information on creating a family disaster plan and severe weather safety tips is available on the City of Edmond’s Web site at www.edmondok.com.

(John A. Williams may be reached via e-mail at jwilliams@edmondsun.com.)

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