As spring weather begins to make its way into the region so does the added threat of bad weather, something Madison County experienced Sunday night.
Preparedness is key, and for those seeking shelter the two FEMA shelters located at the Fredericktown Elementary School and Kelly A. Burlison Middle School may be the answer.
According to the National Weather Service (NWS) Madison County has had 19 tornadoes since 1950 and the state of Missouri recorded 47 across the state in 2018. The NWS also showed that while we have had a large number of tornadoes over the years we have had no reported deaths.
Fredericktown R-I Superintendent Brett Reutzel said the FEMA shelters are made with reinforced concrete that is designed in a way that it can withstand 250 mph winds and can handle items being launched hundreds of mph without being able to penetrate the walls.
“During the school day students have priority, and then after school hours, the community members that live in a mile radius of either shelter are eligible to come in,” Reutzel said. “We aren’t going to turn people away and we don’t check ID at the door.”
Reutzel said the facilities will be cleared and readied for occupancy once a tornado watch is issued and then when the severity is changed to a warning the doors will be opened.
“What’s happened a lot of times is during a tornado watch they will begin to show up.” Reutzel said. “”We’ve never stood at the door during a tornado watch and looked outside at people and said ‘you can’t come in, it’s not a warning.'”
Reutzel said the KABMS FEMA gym holds 1,837 people and the FES FEMA building holds 1,123. When the KABMS facility is filled with the high school, middle school, intermediate school and alternative school students the area is approximately 3/4 full leaving a small amount of room for additional members of the public.
“Some people may have concerns that community members can come in when kids are there,” Assistant Superintendent Shannon Henson said. “But we do have SROs (school resource officers) that will be at every building. The public is required to check in and will have to stay in a different part of the gym.”
Reutzel said in the elementary FEMA building, the area has classrooms making it easier to keep students separate from the public.
“The only issue would be with interfering with our process,” Reutzel said. “Our responsibility is to our students first so it would be a situation where someone has come up and is trying to get in when we are unloading buses and we’d be saying ‘you need to wait.'”
Reutzel said the district relies on radar and weather tracking software to be better prepared, but that sometimes things can change quickly.
“If we know there is a tornado watch or warning in southwestern Iron County and it is tracking this way and is estimated to arrive in 49 minutes we bring the kids over to the shelters,” Reutzel said. “You could see it coming.”
Reutzel said if a tornado warning were to pop up, the students would stay in their buildings with middle school students going to the FEMA gym and the other schools using the duck and cover method.
“You aren’t going to bring anyone out in the middle of a tornado warning,” Reutzel said.
“The only thing that could happen, say you have just a thunderstorm watch, just a thunderstorm watch and all the sudden a tornado warning pops up,” Henson said. “We are not under a tornado watch we were just under a thunderstorm watch and all the sudden now its a tornado warning. There is a chance that we may not get the shelter opened because we don’t want to send people out during a warning to open a shelter and put those people in danger.”
Reutzel said there are chances that situations such as that would happen causing the shelter to not be open but that they do not happen very often.
Both facilities are supplied with water, flash lights, first aid supplies and generators.
Students from KABMS, Fredericktown High School, Fredericktown Intermediate School and the Fredericktown Alternative School participated in a tornado drill March 15 with all four schools making it into the gym in under 12 minutes.
“It’s not the fastest we’ve ever done, but we got everyone in,” Henson said. “My biggest concern when we do it and even when we drill is we really have to be safe with the loading and unloading of kids with buses. That concerns me more than whether we get them inside in a timely fashion.”
Henson said FEMA and SEMA require the school to mitigate natural disaster prevention which includes a lot of paper work.
“There are things we have to do even though we aren’t getting a new building right now,” Henson said. “In order to stay eligible for future projects we have to be continually involved in mitigation to prevent loss of life during a natural disaster.”
Henson said the school works together with Marquand, Fredericktown and Marquand-Zion Schools to talk about the community and probabilities when it comes to natural disasters.
“We are pretty fortunate to have two FEMA buildings in our town,” Reutzel said. “I don’t think it is as prevalent to get the grants, but for us to have two we are very fortunate.”
Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at firstname.lastname@example.org