Thursday, April 2, 2015

County Lacks Public Tornado Shelters

If an individual or family has no home tornado shelter, there are few public places to take shelter in Sequoyah County if a tornado looms, Steve Rutherford, Sequoyah County Emergency Management director, said. When tornadoes swirled around eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas recently, a community shelter became a concern for some. Rutherford said there are no public shelters in the county, although some schools will allow the public in after school hours. He explained that some county schools have shelters, but only enough room for their own students during school hours. Anyone with questions about taking shelter at a county school should call the school to find out if the public is allowed. Rutherford said, "Of course the problem is having someone available after school hours to open the shelter."

Those who oversee other public buildings may have concerns about liability, Rutherford said. He explained, "If you invite the public in, but the building is not FEMA approved and someone gets hurt, then liability becomes a problem." Rutherford said he has been working on finding money or grants to help county communities build public shelters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) guidelines for approved tornado shelters are strict, and expensive to obtain, Rutherford said, explaining public shelters must be FEMA approved. "It takes a lot of effort to get FEMA approval, and it's very expensive," he said. The shelters must got through testing at a Texas university, he explained. Rutherford said that not having pubic shelters in the county "is not a good situation."

Sally Maxwell, Senior News Director

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