What to do about keeping Oklahoma children safe from storms during school hours? That conversation is well under way following the fatal May 20 tornado in Moore.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett announced the formation of a task force to review procedures designed to keep the public safe during storms. The goal, he said, is to “make sure we are doing what is right and appropriate to safeguard our community and our schools from extreme weather events.”
Meantime lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have joined an effort to raise funds to help pay for the construction of safe rooms or storm shelters in public schools. That's a tall order: Oklahoma has about 1,700 school buildings, with enrollments ranging from tiny to gigantic, and most don't have shelters. Building them is expensive.
In the past 12 years, schools have combined to spend $35 million to build 85 safe rooms. Three-fourths of that money came from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The average cost of a school safe room built to FEMA standards is $422,000, according to the state Department of Emergency Management.
In seeding a private effort to make schools storm safe, energy firm Apache Corp. pledged $500,000. Clearly, many more private partners will need to open their checkbooks to make any sort of dent. One legislator says state or federal money could be part of the pot.
Oklahoma's emergency management director, Albert Ashwood, is looking for new funding sources at the urging of the governor. “We need to come up with a plan that ... does not make schools wait for funding,” he said Thursday.
As those efforts commence, the best bet may be for school districts to consider bond issues to build multipurpose safe rooms. Oklahomans have historically supported school bond issues. Given what happened May 20 at Plaza Towers Elementary, where seven children died, they're unlikely to balk at the idea.