Examining Indiana schools’ tornado plans in wake of Oklahoma disaster

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ZIONSVILLE — Indiana’s schools are required to put their own safety plans into place in case of a tornado. It’s something that’s taking on special significance after this week’s devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Fox59 was inside Eagle Elementary in Zionsville two months ago, as the school executed its tornado drill. After the tornado in Moore, Okla., ripped through two schools, it took on new meaning.

“It’s just devastating. I feel so bad for all the families in Oklahoma, I can’t even imagine what that would feel like,” said Christine Squier, Eagle Elementary Principal.

Squier and Zionsville School Safety Coordinator Jim Uland took us back through the halls Tuesday, pointing out refuge areas that are designated during storms.

“We did have engineers come in. We did have the National Weather Service come in and review (our) plans,” Uland said.

The Indiana Department of Education, with help from Indiana’s architects, just sent out a study to schools across the state this year. It gives recommendations, but points out that tornado refuge, safe rooms or shelter are not required by state building code or other state agencies. Despite this, each school must have a safety plan in place and conduct a minimum of one tornado preparedness drill per semester.

Local architect Wayne Schmidt said that despite the loss of life in Oklahoma, the fact that many students survived showed that some of the plans there did work. He said that Indiana schools do not have basements or underground shelters largely because of cost and restrictions, but that if schools get an expert opinion, they can assure a great deal of safety.

“My guess is that the concrete block (walls) in the corridors, from all the pictures I’ve seen (in Oklahoma), really produced a pretty safe place for the kids. Scary, but safe,” Schmidt said.

Schools also have school safety specialists, people who have attended state training. If you have questions about our own child’s safety, call your district and ask who that specialist is.

“I would have parents feel confident that schools in Indiana do their drills. They are very diligent about it. We take them very seriously,” Squier said.