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Schools will map, test new tornado preparedness

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Officials at W.D. Richards Elementary School thought they were doing everything right to prepare for a tornado.

Twice a semester, students filed into three long corridors from their classrooms and then were asked to drop and tuck against the wall.

It was practice for what would happen if a tornado warning were issued.

But a report presented to the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. board Monday night has caused Principal Darin Sprong to reassess the school’s safety procedures.

The report, “Best Available Refuge Areas,” identified the safest areas, next-safest areas and areas to avoid in each district building during a tornado emergency.

“Safety is our number-one priority, and learning is second every day,” Sprong said.

“Our safety team is already taking that information and making some changes so we’re safe, and we will be prepared.”

Jim Funk, an architect and CEO with CSO Architects, told the board that Richards provided a good example of a common problem schools face in tornado preparedness.

By leading students into the hallway, Richards officials were following a standard good practice.

But he said it is important to consider each building individually.

“When tornadoes hit, those east-west corridors become wind tunnels, especially if there are doors at the end of them,” he told the board.

Sprong said he and a safety team planned to meet to reconsider safety procedures, and he hopes to drill the students using a new tornado plan before the week is out.

Larry Perkinson, BCSC student assistance coordinator, said schools across the district are taking similar steps by examining the findings and making necessary changes to procedures.

Schools are required to conduct at least two tornado drills per semester, he said.

Based on the study, most schools will be required to reconsider the refuge areas used.

The biggest finding is many schools did not consider the high gym and cafeteria walls that could collapse, Funk said.

“Tornado safety is important enough that we’ve invested in it,” Perkinson said.

“It’s acknowledging that we’re going to be as prepared as possible.”

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