Archive for Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tonganoxie schools work on preparedness

May 11, 2005

As part of his job, Chuck Magaha helps schools with tornado drills.

Just two weeks ago, prior to the school's tornado drill, Magaha walked through Tonganoxie Elementary School with Principal Jerry Daskoski.

Magaha suggested where children should take cover -- in the hallways, away from windows and doors with glass in them.

And, he looked outside. TES has six classrooms in exterior buildings. Four of those classrooms are in modular units. The other two are in a Quonset hut that the district renovated last year to create two more classrooms.

"I told them they need to bring those kids inside when there is a tornado watch or severe thunderstorm watch between 30 and 45 minutes away," Magaha said. "That way the kids aren't walking through the brunt of the storm trying to take refuge."

It's not always possible to predict which storms will be severe.

"If you're sitting in the bulls-eye of a tornado watch, the last thing you want to have is kids moving from point A to point B on the outside of a building," Magaha said.

A serious proposition

In response to the whoop-whoop-whoop of a school tornado siren, students filed from classrooms. Despite the novelty of a break from lessons, they entered the hall seriously.

They knelt facing the walls, lowering their heads toward the floor and covering their heads with their hands. Their teachers towered over them, making sure students were in a safe position.

Daskoski walked through the halls of the sprawling building, checking to ensure the 800-plus students at the elementary school know what to do during a tornado drill.

"It took a minute and 21 seconds to get everyone into place," Daskoski said.

This included the time it took the students in the exterior classrooms to come to the main building and get in position.

Backup plan

Until two years ago, to signal a tornado drill, someone in the school's main office would announce the drill on the school's intercom.

But an intercom system installed two years ago offers an attention-grabbing siren.

However, when asked if there was a backup power device that could run the intercom system during a power outage, Daskoski said there wasn't.

Magaha said that as far as he knows, there is no state law requiring schools to have a generator or other power supply to operate a school's tornado warning system when the power is out.

"I don't think it's required," Magaha said.

Magaha said West Middle School in Leavenworth has a plan in place to use an air horn to warn of tornadoes should the school's electrical power be cut off.

Jeff Payne, assistant principal at WMS, said tornado warnings typically come from the middle school's intercom system.

"But if we lost power what we would use is air horns," Payne said. "We use them for sporting events and things."

Daskoski said Monday that Tonganoxie Elementary School does not have a backup tornado warning plan in place, but that he would look into developing one.

Though the elementary school doesn't have an air horn, Daskoski said school has a portable battery-operated megaphone for outdoor sporting events that might work as a substitute tornado-warning device.

"It might even be something that we try versus the tone next time to make sure it's going to work as a backup," Daskoski said. "... To make sure that people are going to hear it."

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