Architects trained to assess safe areas
Mon, 01/27/2014 - 1:36pm Kim McConnell
The State of Oklahoma, heeding calls for storm safety, is trying to help school districts determine whether their facilities provide adequate protection against tornadoes.
The Oklahoma Office of Emergency Management, working in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has crafted a session to help train Oklahoma's architects, engineers and building designers to form teams that will analyze public school campuses across the state. OEM Director Albert Ashwood, talking late last year to members of an Oklahoma House of Representatives interim study group researching school safety, said his agency would be working through the Oklahoma Architects Association and Architects International. The Oklahoma Architects Association has an ultimate goal of training enough architects to form 32 assessment teams.
Keli Cain, OEM public information officer, said the program is designed to train architects, engineers, designers, emergency managers and other local officials to assess school buildings for safe room options, as well as safe refuge areas already existing in schools, by providing assessment teams that can assess schools throughout the state as requested by school district personnel.
Dubbed the Safe Schools 101 initiative, the program is the first in the nation, FEMA officials said, of classes that feature lecture, hands-on exercises and on-site assessments for local schools.
Mike Patterson, an Oklahoma City architect who attended OEM's pilot program in November, said the idea is to send architects into schools to do assessments, finding secure space in existing buildings where "in the spring, when a tornado happens, we can put kids in the safest area." Teams also will assess options to see if retrofits are feasible or whether a new building is the best avenue, and evaluate what plans the district has to cope with natural disasters.