All schools have a tornado safety plan in which they bring the kids to a designated interior hallway, usually made of cinder block walls that can protect them.
But at Dekalb West School, they’ve built a tornado safe room from re-enforced concrete that can withstand 250-mph winds, the force of an EF-5 tornado.
Earl Jared, Maintenance Supervisor for Dekalb County Schools explained how they built it when adding a new wing to the building:
“They dug way down and put a 3′ X 4′ foundation. They came up with rebar all the way up through the walls. They did the slab and then they came up through the block walls, with rebar, coming all the way up to the top, wrapped over the top of the wall. They have concrete planks on top of that where the rebar comes up and goes over the top of that. Then they poured two inches of concrete on top to keep the roof on and attached with rebar and wires going all the way across.”
There is even a generator to power the lights and the ventilation system if the power goes out.
About two weeks after it was built, that the first tornado warning came at about 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon and parents were actually in their cars waiting to pick up their kids.
“We had about 15-20 parents that came into our building that came in for the safe area. So, that was our very first use of it. So, when you think about a community aspect, we’re just now getting into the early stages of opening this up for our community when things like this happen”, explained Sabrina Farler, Principal of DeKalb West School.
Luckily, that tornado did not strike the school, but if it had, both the kids and their parents would have been safe.
Ms. Farler explained that the shelter was paid for by the combination of a FEMA grant with county and state funds.
“The FEMA grant was a 75% matching grant. They paid for 75%, and then the county only had to pay for 12.5%. The other 12.5% was funded by the state of Tennessee.”