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Insider Blog: Camden County official facing up hill battle to provide community storm shelters

This week's storms were a reminder, for one local EMA Director, of how vulnerable their residents are to severe weather.

"We are physically a larger county, and our population is spread out."

Samantha Henley, Director of Emergency Management for Camden County, says the rural nature of her county is just one of the reasons residents there don't have a public storm shelter to rely on during severe weather. Another?

"Liability is a huge concern," says Henley.

She says area churches have been eager to offer their spaces, but they often aren't sure of the steps to ensure they have the proper coverage to operate as a public storm shelter.

According to Henley, the pandemic also throws a wrench into the equation for those with smaller spaces.

"We don't necessarily need the biggest building in the world to become a shelter, you know, but the smaller ones are like 'oh man, we're only this big, we can only fit, according to these guidelines and requirements that we have to follow, we can only fit like 10, 15, 20 people.'"

She says fixing this problem has been an up hill battle.

"I worry about it, I worry about, I feel like all 42,000 people here in Camden county are like my kids, and I worry about them."

According to Henley it's just not in the budget nor logistically feasible for the county to build their own central shelter, so she's still trying to orchestrate a network of shelters.

She says that includes helping willing churches navigate their liability concerns, and sharing with upcoming building projects, the information on how they can secure funding to add public shelters to their new structures.

"And if it's a location that I think could potentially host a shelter below ground before they build, I would be interested in talking to them about if they're capable or interested in moving forward with going after that funding if there is any, to put that shelter in before the building is built."

If you'd like to check out a partial list of storm shelters in Missouri, click here.

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John Ross

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