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Mid-Missouri schools prepare for severe weather

Mid-Missouri schools participate in severe weather drills year-round, but the Missouri School Boards Association said schools have been more aware of the dangers of tornadoes since the massive storm that hit Joplin.

Gerry Lee, the associate executive director of the MSBA, said the key to severe weather is having a plan.

“Many times, you don’t have a lot of time,” he said.

Lee said MSBA helps every school district come up with severe weather plans that follow their guidelines, but each school district’s plan is unique.

“We recommend schools to have drills regularly,” Lee said.

These drills mean everyone has a place and needs to learn where that place is.

“Each of our drill plans are customized for the building in which the students are,” Columbia Public School spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said.

Baumstark said CPS develops a new plan for every school building before each school year in part because the age of each building varies.

Some buildings are also built differently than others.

During the 2011 Joplin tornado, Lee said a school’s hallways turned into a wind tunnel, causing debris to fly everywhere.

“That is probably one of the deadliest things of a tornado,” Lee said.

Since the Joplin tornado, Lee said MSBA has made school districts more aware of issues with kids in the hallways during a tornado.

“It depends on how the building is built, if you’ve got a lot of things in the hallway or open-ended windows and glass in the hallways,” he said. “It just depends on the school.”

Lee said while he was growing up, students always went into the hallways for tornado drills. Now, he said it may not be the best decision.

Baumstark said one way CPS tries to keep students safe is by working with their local emergency operations agencies. She said the school district also follows MSBA’s example of frequent drill practices.

“The tornado drill is done at a minimum of two times a year, we’re doing fire drills 10 times a year. We have an earthquake drill that is done,” she said.

Baumstark said CPS designates certain areas in each building called “shelter areas” where students go to take cover for tornadoes.

She said the school district hopes to continue to improve building design for the safety of students. In recent years, Baumstark said, CPS was able to create a tornado shelter location within Grant Elementary while renovating the school.

Lee said the ideal safe place for students to go is an area in the interior of the building with no windows and strong walls.

Missouri officials organized a statewide tornado drill Tuesday. Schools could choose to participate or opt out.

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