Scientists: Schools Need Better Tornado Protection

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Seven children died when an EF5 tornado slammed into their school in Moore, Oklahoma last year. (Getty Images)

Seven children died when an EF5 tornado slammed into their school in Moore, Oklahoma last year. (Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – New data suggests schools are not the best place to hunker down when a tornado approaches, reports Live Science.

Students are trained to “duck and cover” in hallways or under their desks when a threatening storm nears.

But that training failed to protect students at the Plaza Towers Elementary School when an EF5 tornado slammed through Moore, Oklahoma on May 20th of last year. Seven children died when the roof collapsed as they huddled for safety.

Architects don’t usually consider tornado safety when designing schools, says Andrea Melvin with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. “I have walked through schools and left thinking, ‘Please don’t let a storm come anywhere near this building,'” she told Live Science.

Melvin is encouraging major changes in the way schools in vulnerable areas are constructed. “We cannot continue to add more glass everywhere and expect to have safe areas for sheltering. We can’t build walls that are not connected to the roof and foundation,’ she added.

Most building codes require the structures to be able to withstand winds up to 90 mph. But even the weakest tornado can generate sustained winds up to 110 mph.

The architecture of many schools makes finding shelter difficult. Hallways are often on the outside of the building, or lined with glass windows. Even when a school with an open floor plan is retrofitted, the walls are often made of unreinforces sheetrock, which collapse when the roof starts to go.

Melvin said school officials need to carefully reconsider their school’s emergency plans. The safest places to be are interior rooms with strong connections between the foundation, the walls and the roof. It’s best if there are no large windows. Bathrooms and locker rooms are also good options, though basements may not be if they house water or gas lines.

The two schools being rebuild in Moore will be equipped with safe rooms where students can take shelter during a tornado strike. More and more parents are urging their schools to provide such rooms, says Live Science.

Melvin said outfitting every vulnerable school with a safe room would cost over $2 billion

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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