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School in severe weather: Yes or no?

Posted Friday, January 11, 2008, at 9:53 AM

Bedford County schools closed at 2:30 p.m. Thursday -- 30 minutes or so early for some schools -- as we were under a tornado watch and warnings had been issued for Maury and Williamson counties due to one particular storm.

At least two persons in the Times-Gazette office were concerned about their children returning to locked homes. I imagine there were similar concerns elsewhere.

I was watching the Maury-Williamson storm on radar. No tornado actually touched down in the warned areas, but the radar image looked ominous.

But: That storm was headed northeast, away from us. The part of the squall line headed for our area never carried any warnings -- although electricity went out due to lightning at Liberty School, and damage was reported in Tullahoma and Lincoln County from a storm for which no warning was issued.

We discussed those dismissals in the T-G newsroom. Several of us agreed that it's better to keep students in well-built school buildings rather than put them on the streets or in less strongly-built homes with a storm approaching.

This isn't meant as criticism of decisions made by personnel at Bedford County Schools' central office or individual schools. But what do you think of early closings for wind, as opposed to snow?

I'd also like to see more attention paid to including storm-safe areas in future new schools. Those should be a key part of construction plans.

Schools have been hit while occupied at least twice that I can remember. I was in the third-floor, heavily-windowed lunchroom of the old Central High on Elm Street when strong winds -- possibly a small tornado -- hit on a spring day in, I think, 1975. Glass flew everywhere. Girls screamed and dived under tables. Guys just stared at the flying glass. Bedford County Medical Center's roof was damaged and a lot of minor wind damage occurred in the Blue Ribbon Parkway area, indicating the storm followed a path such as a tornado might take. Schools were closed early that day; it seems like 1 p.m. or so.

And part of the roof of today's Central High gym was peeled off during a wrestling tournament in the early 1980s.

That's two hits within a 10-year period, and it could happen again. That's proof enough that precautions and preparation are necessary.

Final food for thought: A school in Caledonia, Miss., was struck by a tornado Thursday. A bus was supposedly thrown onto the building's roof. Not a pleasant thought...


Comments
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Schools got out 30 minutes early yesterday?

That would have made them releasing students during the only part of the storm here in Bedford County because about 2:30-3:00 was when we got the wind and rain wasn't it? What scares me about that is the High School students who are new drivers leaving in a storm and I have the same concern about snow and ice storms.(which thankfully we don't get many of those)

-- Posted by Dianatn on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 10:18 AM

My daughter called to tell me they got out early yesterday and I was not happy about it. The school building is much more sound than my house! I want to know exactly where my kids are in bad weather. Snow/ice and a bus could end up in a wreck and thats bad enough. A tornado and a bus could end up being a disaster. Everyone knows your not supposed to be in a vehicle during a bad storm or possible tornado.

-- Posted by Disgusted on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 10:30 AM

I Totally agree. The school is much safer than the roads in these situations.

-- Posted by Tn Volunteer on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 11:20 AM

I did not hear the com center tone out the school system, but in all fairness, I could have missed it. just was wonering if anyone else heard it. They are suppose to run a test with the school system every month. With this system every school will get the message of danger at one time, much faster than using the phone.

I had my fears yesterday with all the buses sent out during the worse part of the storm. I think that the best thing would have been like other countys did and hold the students at school and let the news media inform everyone what was happening and their children would be late getting home.

-- Posted by Lower Taxes Please on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 11:21 AM

It is completely irresponsible to allow children to leave a school where they can be accounted for and protected. Common sense dictates that it is better to have these children in a safe location where they can be looked after by adults and teachers rather than scattered throughout the entire community. Yes, there is that chance that a tornado could actually hit the school so in that murky water we sit saying we would rather have the kids spread out than all to get injured at once. I would advise against this because not only is that an invalid point based on marginal percentages but a danger to promote and entertain. I'm a teacher and I feel this is probably one of the worst ideas. In a storm, keep them at the school. If it means they have to stay over a few hours, then so be it but the kids truly are more safe in a school building than in some flimsy car or in their residence alone.

-- Posted by muckraker on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 12:39 PM

Lowertaxes I am not sure where you get your info, but you do happen to be right. Sorry everyone I hate to sound like a broken record, but the mistakes of the 911 center continues. I say, because I have been in that dispatch chair. Prior to my dismissal, it was policy that the storm alert system, in every school, were be tested the first Monday of every month. It wasn't done then and it is not done now either. How do I know this?? Well that School Alert tone is broadcast over the fire department frequency. If we are monitoring the fire channel, when the schools know, we know. That falls back in the hands of the EMA Director Scott Johnson and School Superintendent Ed Gray. How did the school system know the storms were even coming?? There was never any "tones" sent out, until EMA requested storm shelters to be opened. Once AGAIN our 911 center has "dropped the ball" I am not sure what more it is going to take, for County Officials to wake up!!

As for closing the schools, I have to sympathize with Ed Gray a little. There are so many people that he has to think about and the liability. Should or should he not close schools?? We have put him in the position to make those calls. Who can predict the weather? Yes, Schools are safer than most houses. If something had hit and destroyed the school while children were there, we would be discussing that topic. Oh well it seems they dismiss schools to much due to weather anyways. I suppose that is one of those, "Darn if you do, Darn if you don't" situations. I would look at, if they are going to dismiss schools based on and expected weather pattern, lets not wait until it is here. I made that point to Scott Johnson a long time back.

I don't have children, but I do have family in school, so my concerns are genuine.

-- Posted by Jason"Duck"Barber on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 1:05 PM

I think that case by case discretion should be used. As in yesterday's case, the line of storms was moving quickly and the storms were only expected to last for a short while. Therefore, making it very reasonable to keep the kids at school until the storm had passed. In some cases, storms (or the threat of storms) can last throughout the evening. In that case, of course, it would make sense to send children home early and then it becomes the parents' responsibility to make sure their children are in a safe place.

Unfortunately, our school administration is faced with so many political hurdles (ie. threats of lawsuits, angry parents, etc)that common sense is over-ridden by procedure.

-- Posted by pleasebenice on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 1:12 PM

I agree that,whenever possible,our public buildings be made so they can be safe shelters in the event of an emergency.

Other suitable buildings could be similarly designated.

I remember when ducking under a school desk was considered enough to counter a direct nuclear hit.

Now,we don't assume our brick buildings are as sturdy as a car or trailer?

The 1980 storm deposited a big portion of one of the square's older and larger trees into the middle of my drive in the historic district.

Let's get ready for anything (a burst dam,oil tanks exploding,tornado,terrorist attack,blizzard,fire,four car pile-up,etc. and be glad when all our preparation and precautions prove unnecessary.

If the schools,churches,shopping areas,hospital and such are equipped to safeguard our children and pets and invalids and adults when the worst occurs,then they ought to be suitable for us every day.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 1:53 PM

I remember when ducking under a school desk was considered enough to counter a direct nuclear hit.

-- Posted by quantumcat on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 1:53 PM

That's the funniest thing I've seen all day.

quantumcat, I love to read your posts. Once you get past the fact that they are obviously just random thoughts, they're so funny!

You always tend to lighten up heavy conversations.

-- Posted by pleasebenice on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 3:11 PM

Geeez I remember both of those school hits. I was in the gym when that happened and I was at Harris that day in 75 when wind picked up debris and started breaking windows.

The school system is in a total no win situation. If the kids stay and the school is hit they have a mass casualty situation (see Enterprise HS in AL last year). If they send them home they may be getting in shelters that are not as sturdy and are on the roads potentially during the storm.

If I'm the superintendent, you're going home.

-- Posted by Tim Baker on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 4:11 PM

Thanks,pleasebenice!

Your presence brings a smile to my face,too.

Tim Baker,that no-win situation is why I wish we had civil defense type shelters for every school,plant and nursing home (at the very least) plus the plans and personnel to make them work.

Why put officials in that kind of predicament?

-- Posted by quantumcat on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 5:33 PM

The Comm Center did give out the tornado warning for Bedford County Thursday morning.

I wish all these people that are griping were perfect then we would have a perfect world. But there was and will only be one perfect person.

-- Posted by cordell on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 6:44 PM

Hummm, that is interesting cordell. how did the com center give out a tornado warning Thursday Morning, when there was no storm anywhere near us? All they mentioned was a tornado watch over the radio. The school system has to be "toned out" before they can hear it. If you are trying to take the side of the 911 center, you are going to be a part of a very small crowd.

-- Posted by Jason"Duck"Barber on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 8:27 PM

I vote that they should have held the children in school until the storms passed.

As a mother, I would have been very concerned and quite mad if I found out that they sent my kids home on a huge bus in the middle of a "wind" storm......we really didn't get much rain.

I am not trying to bash Mr. Gray, but can someone tell me if he is "liable" for all children riding on school buses until they reach their homes safely?

It seems to me like he would be. Maybe, somehow, we can reach him and let him know how we feel?

-- Posted by Mary on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 9:46 PM

I was at East Side Primary for most of the afternoon yesterday. I witnesses the MANY calls from parents asking about schools getting out early, the calls from the central office and the weather reports being constantly monitered on the computer. East Side gets out at 2:30 everyday with the buses loading at 2:20. Yesterday they were told to load the buses as they got there and send them on out to the other schools so our kids actually only left about 10-15 mins early.

I left school about the same time as the first buses were loading and leaving and there was no wind no rain only gray overcast skies.

I came straight home to check the weather and the storm line was just moving through Columbia and the front edge of the rain was just starting to reach Bedford County. This was about 2:30-2:45.

Why should our school system have held the kids at school with threatening weather 50 miles away? Odds were that the kids would all be home safe before the storms hit. I also know that the light rain as the storm line came through did not start here until close to 3:30. I would not have wanted my children held at school for over a hour before the rain even began- that is just ridiculous.

Now had the major part of the storm been closer I have no doubt the children would have all been held at school until the worst was over.

As someone else said, it's a no win situation and could go either way.

Just the way I saw the situation.

-- Posted by EastSideMom on Fri, Jan 11, 2008, at 11:40 PM

What bothered me was I didn't know they were getting out early. What if I wasn't home? Thankfully I was.

I've seen weather alot worse and they haven't gotten out early then, so it never occured to me they would have gotten out early.

I could have had two little scared boys banging on the front door with no one at home in the storm. Bedford Co. wasn't mentioned on ANY of the local news stations that I was watching. I want a cell phone alert the next time! Please make this available...

-- Posted by countrymom on Sat, Jan 12, 2008, at 8:22 AM

Just because it wasnt storming at East Side School at 2:30 does not mean it wasn't storming at Liberty or Community or Cascade. All of which are Bedford County Schools. We have a wide area of schools here in Bedford County and when they need to close one school, they all close.

-- Posted by Dianatn on Sat, Jan 12, 2008, at 10:34 AM

Dianatn, your exactly right!

-- Posted by Disgusted on Sat, Jan 12, 2008, at 12:38 PM

I am not taking sides with anybody I'm just stating the fact. It was a tornado watch not warning, my mistake. It was issued by the NWS and dispatched by the Comm Center.

By the way I don't choose sides.

-- Posted by cordell on Sat, Jan 12, 2008, at 5:14 PM

All of us could take a lesson from the weather.

It pays no attention to Criticism

-- Posted by Dianatn on Sat, Jan 12, 2008, at 9:14 PM

CORDEELL,It's ok, we all make mistakes, I just wanted to make it clear to everyone.Thanks for setting me straight :). I do want to say that just "giving out" the watch/warning over the radio, does not notify personnel as adaquately as sending out alert tones. That's why the Com Center has a "All Call" for fire departments and the school system. Tones are an "attention getter". Thats why you hear the tones on the t.v. and the NOAA system. I say this because it was done that way when I was there. And I could not think of a reason why they would stop doing it.

Thanks again for responding, that is alot more than the 911 centers reps. have done.

-- Posted by Jason"Duck"Barber on Sun, Jan 13, 2008, at 1:44 PM

Country Mom, a few posts back, makes a good point about a phone alert system.

Williamson County, I think has something similar in place in which parents are notifed by phone voice and/or text messages of early closings (or snow day closings).

Media alerts only help up to a point in early closing events because not everyone's near a TV or listening to a Shelbyville-based radio station. I'd guess quick word of mouth gets much of the message out.

-- Posted by David Melson on Sun, Jan 13, 2008, at 3:51 PM

Just because it wasnt storming at East Side School at 2:30 does not mean it wasn't storming at Liberty or Community or Cascade. All of which are Bedford County Schools.-- Posted by Dianatn

I realize that our schools are spread all over the county and that was my point of mentioning the radar situation when I got home and that the rain was just moving into Bedford County. I was also trying to impress on everyone that neither the schools nor the central office were taking it lightly.

As for the cell phone alert, our secretary at East Side mentioned something about having this last year while she was working at another Bedford County school and that she got the alert before the schools actually received it. There must be one in place or at least there was last year.

-- Posted by EastSideMom on Sun, Jan 13, 2008, at 6:49 PM

I am thankful that schools got out early! I think that is better than holding the students over 30 to 45 minutes like Rutherford Co. and Williamson Co. did.

-- Posted by tdbsjt on Sun, Jan 13, 2008, at 8:07 PM

David:

I agree a person needs to be around the t.v to get the alerts. But as I said, the "tones" are what gets your attention. Doesn't the Nashville media stations offer alerts directly to your phone and/or desktop via the NWS? Or maybe cell companies offer the same deal I know you can get radar on alot of phone by suscription.

-- Posted by Jason"Duck"Barber on Sun, Jan 13, 2008, at 8:42 PM

my dayghter called me from the high school and i was sitting at liberty waiting for my other child. they got out at 3;00 liberty did. what is up with that?

-- Posted by k1963june on Mon, Jan 14, 2008, at 8:51 AM

Here's a suggestion for parents...Make an emergency plan for your kids. "If school lets out early, you..." Go to grandmother's, go to neighbors, do not get on the bus (someone will pick you up), ride home with ____, etc. and then send a signed and dated copy of this plan to your child's teacher, principal and bus driver. That way you aren't caught in a bad situation and everyone knows what to do.

-- Posted by Jacks4me on Mon, Jan 14, 2008, at 2:23 PM

That's a great idea, Jacks4Me. I think they cancel school too often these days anyway. I can't remember ever getting out of school because it rained too much, yet that was one reason we closed school for in the last couple of years.

I think this "Sue happy" society we live in these days actually leads to some bad decisions. I'm afraid some people hit the nail on the head when they suggested that the school would rather send the students home early, than possibly be held liable if a twister hit a school full of kids that were held past their normal time of departure.

-- Posted by tgreader on Tue, Jan 15, 2008, at 11:34 AM

At least two persons have sued over Enterprise (Ala.) High's tornado hit last year:

www.flashpointblog.com/2007/09/14/enterp...

-- Posted by David Melson on Tue, Jan 15, 2008, at 12:02 PM

In response to the Mother wanting to get severe weather alerts via her cell phone:

Verizon Wireless provides several "alert" features including free "amber alerts" which I'd advise everyone to sign up for. They also provide severe weather alerts for a fee of 50 cents per alert. Well worth the price if you find yourself in an area where an alert has been broadcast. You simply go to their website and log in or create a free online account if you are a customer and have not yet done so. From there you'll enter all areas that you'd like to be alerted for by zip code. I personally receive amber alerts for Murfreesboro, Shelbyville, and Bell Buckle since that is where I am 90 % of the time. Here is a link to the alert page at Verizon Wireless. Just copy and paste the address below into your browser if it is not displayed as a link.

https://alerts.vzw.com/guest/verizon/Fea...

-- Posted by tgreader on Tue, Jan 15, 2008, at 1:52 PM

Thanks! tgreader, I'm going there now to check it out.

-- Posted by countrymom on Wed, Jan 16, 2008, at 7:35 AM


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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.