Moore, Oklahoma is in the middle of Tornado Alley, a region noted for its annual production of strong thunderstorms and storms spawning tornados. As surely as annual blooms sprout like clockwork, storms erupt with immense fury. The storms shred lives and families to broken shards of what they once innocently were.
Plaza Towers Elementary was a school constructed of steel, concrete and brick. It wasn’t constructed to shelter people from an Enhanced Fujita Scale Level 5 (EF-5) tornado pushing winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. The administration built the school did what every community does regularly; they rolled the dice and went tragically to a statement and preparation level saying it can’t happen here.
This was in spite of the fact dozens of tornados have scarred the earth, in this very area, during the 57 years since the school was initially constructed and dedicated to educating and sheltering their most important citizens, the children of Moore. Regularly, school administrations budget in favor of better landscaping, classier architecture, better looking classrooms and common areas and making sure the sports facilities are better than those of the “‘ol school rival.”
Nobody builds tornado shelters. When I was a School Resource Officer I knew of NO emergency drills and evacuation practices conducted by the local school board. But the school board did authorize resurfacing of the basketball courts in both high schools at a combined cost of $150 Thousand dollars. My second year at the high school a tornado touched down in a neighborhood one mile from an elementary school. NO warning was issued. There was no plan to shelter or protect the children in effect or practiced often enough to assure the fewest casualties possible. More recently a funnel cloud was observed hanging over Baton Rouge like a Sword of Damocles; a mere mile and one-half from the nearest West Baton Rouge School.
I’m not sure anything’s changed. We’re still woefully unprepared for a disaster of the Moore Oklahoma magnitude.
But the Parish Council of our idyllic community on the Mississippi River, directly across from Baton Rouge, likes and enjoys their creature comforts. The West Baton Rouge Parish Council recently dedicated approximately $750 Thousand for the construction of four “Splash Pads”, one for each major community in West Baton Rouge (WBR).
There are NO plans to build tornado shelters at any of the schools that I’m aware of at this time. There are NO plans for enhancing existent structures to shelter children more capably and safely. But, in defense of WBR, the same goes for most ALL school districts in Louisiana. They’re remiss in this matter of preparing for the worst. They all jealously guard their funds so they may have what’s appealing as opposed to what’s most protective of those in their trust.
There’s a rule of law that’s applicable toward all issues concerning children in public schools. That rule of law is called: In Loco Parentis. The term is Latin for “in the place of a parent” and refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent.
This includes the theory a parent expects the school to return custody of the child to the parent with the child being in the same condition of health and safety as when he was sent to school. If a community doesn’t construct barriers protecting the child from the power of the elements, then that community is in violation of its trust as much as the parish (county) authorities not demanding it of each other.
Most school systems (as well as county and state agencies) can’t say they protect the child when placing self-serving constructs before the safety of the student population. They’re self-serving because the elected officials know they look better at election time if the schools are clean, well-manicured and apparently well-managed financially. Nobody looks for tornado shelters or emergency evacuation plans when they inspect the grounds or read of the “improvements” advertised in School Board and Parish government newsletters. Nobody considers these until after the funerals.
Don’t you think that should change?
Thanks for listening.