New JeffCo schools require tornado safe areas

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Every spring people across Alabama welcome the warm weather with open arms; however, those pleasant temperatures roll in hand-in-hand with the state’s primary tornado season. All too often, Mother Nature takes her wrath out on school buildings.

Every time severe weather strikes, the Jefferson County Board of Education learns a little more. New school buildings are required to have “Tornado Safe Areas” that meet a lengthy list of criteria.

“Students are our first concern,” said Erwin Intermediate School principal Angela Watkins. “Them [the students] being safe is at the top of our list.”

As soon as you walk through the door into the designated safe area, you have already seen the first criterion.

“Once we enter that part of the shelter, those doors must be closed,” explained Watkins. “Those doors have a safety mechanism on them that makes sure we can be in there safe.” The walls are made of concrete, supposed to stand up well versus violently high winds.

During severe weather events, students are either directed to designated sides of the hallway, or assigned classrooms. The rooms have windows with protective grates that can be opened or close. “

So, if we’re in that room we can find out what’s going on,” said Watkins. “We’re also closer to the outside, so if someone is trying to talk to us we can get to them that way.”

Some classrooms have garage door-like air vents that can be rolled up to get fresh air if the faculty and students are forced to stay inside for an extended period of time.

The shelter cost the Jefferson County BOE $600,000, but all agree it’s money well-spent.

“There’s never enough for my students,” said Watkins. “I want more. We are constantly looking for more items to bring in there to help us.”

2014 WIAT-TV CBS42

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