May 20—A "thank you" and a reminder are in order this morning.
The thanks go to the Carthage School District, which has agreed to open three more of its school storm shelters to the public during tornado warnings.
Superintendent Mark Baker said this week that the Pleasant Valley Elementary School and the Carthage Intermediate Center shelters will be available as soon as three people for each shelter can be found and trained to open and manage them during severe weather. Columbian Elementary School will soon join the list this summer.
That's good news.
The district already opens its Federal Emergency Managagement Agency-funded shelter at Carthage Junior High, so now there will be four school district options where Carthage residents can seek shelter in a storm.
Opening a storm shelter to the public is not always a simple decision. Does it have the capacity to protect more than just children and staff? Does it have the support facilities, such as restrooms, for example, for a crowd?
So, our thanks to Carthage school officials for this decision.
One of the things we learned from the Joplin tornado was just how unsafe schools were in the event of a large tornado. What if that EF5 had hit Joplin when classes were in session? What if graduation had taken place at the high school in 2011, as it did this year, rather than at the university?
Now we say "were" — past tense — because things have changed for the better.
Since 2011, many districts, using FEMA assistance, have built large safe rooms capable of housing their student population and also opened those shelters to the community.
Thousands more shelters have been added around the region at private homes and businesses. And in Joplin, all the homes built since the tornado have included hurricane straps and other measures aimed at making them stronger. Strong enough for another EF5? Let's hope we never find out, but they are definitely safer. And let's remember the studies that found much of the damage to homes in Joplin occurred at EF3 wind speeds.
Bottom line: We are much safer today than we were a decade ago.
But all of that won't matter if we don't take tornado watches and warnings seriously. Many more people do today, but not everyone.
We are only as safe as we are willing to be prudent and proactive. If you don't have a shelter, then have a plan.