After the Storm: Building a Safe Shelter for the School Children of Mulhall, Oklahoma

John W. Buckley Norman, Oklahoma

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Abstract

When the elementary school in Mulhall, Oklahoma, was destroyed during the tornado outbreak of 3 May 1999, a great loss of young life was prevented by chance alone. The tornado hit after school was out of session. The weather scientists and researchers who read this journal attempt to save lives by improving forecasting and public warning systems. The author has attempted to save lives for more than two decades by designing storm shelters to serve students who do not have the option of fleeing an approaching storm. The reasons why so few of Oklahoma's schools provide storm protection are defined as a lack of adequate construction and maintenance funding and a widespread low-risk perception. The estimated cost to provide all Oklahoma school children with protection from a direct hit by an F5 tornado is about $1.3 billion. A plain-language discussion of the aboveground shelter that was designed for the rebuilt school includes site planning principles, structural design options, the importance of including a brick veneer, shelter door design options and criteria, strategies to resolve fire code violations, and the importance of designing for a rescue after the storm has passed. A call is made for a national storm shelter rating system based upon differing occupant safety levels. A call is also made for a partnership among the professionals who are designing large-scale shelters, scientists and researchers studying tornados, and building code officials similar to the partnership that has vastly improved earthquake-resistant building design.

Corresponding author address: John W. Buckley, 4015 Morain Court, Norman, OK 73072. Email: johnb@arcokla.com

Abstract

When the elementary school in Mulhall, Oklahoma, was destroyed during the tornado outbreak of 3 May 1999, a great loss of young life was prevented by chance alone. The tornado hit after school was out of session. The weather scientists and researchers who read this journal attempt to save lives by improving forecasting and public warning systems. The author has attempted to save lives for more than two decades by designing storm shelters to serve students who do not have the option of fleeing an approaching storm. The reasons why so few of Oklahoma's schools provide storm protection are defined as a lack of adequate construction and maintenance funding and a widespread low-risk perception. The estimated cost to provide all Oklahoma school children with protection from a direct hit by an F5 tornado is about $1.3 billion. A plain-language discussion of the aboveground shelter that was designed for the rebuilt school includes site planning principles, structural design options, the importance of including a brick veneer, shelter door design options and criteria, strategies to resolve fire code violations, and the importance of designing for a rescue after the storm has passed. A call is made for a national storm shelter rating system based upon differing occupant safety levels. A call is also made for a partnership among the professionals who are designing large-scale shelters, scientists and researchers studying tornados, and building code officials similar to the partnership that has vastly improved earthquake-resistant building design.

Corresponding author address: John W. Buckley, 4015 Morain Court, Norman, OK 73072. Email: johnb@arcokla.com

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