Community shelters to get more signs to ease confusion says Jopl - KOAM TV 7

Lights out at shelterLights out at shelter

Lights out at shelter

Community shelters to get more signs to ease confusion says Joplin Schools superintendent

Updated April 28, 2014 -New emergency storm shelters were put to the test yesterday in Joplin, and in one case - failed.  Safe rooms at Soaring Heights Elementary and Irving Elementary were built for school and public use.

The district says when a tornado watch is issued the doors to the shelters will be unlocked until severe weather moves out of the area.

However, yesterday afternoon the doors at Soaring Heights remained locked until 4:30 p.m., more than four hours after the initial watch was issued.

Residents also had trouble finding the correct doors to go in once they were unlocked.

School officials say signage will need to be improved.

"I think we are all in learning mode - these are the first safe rooms that we have opened up and there is always room for improvement," says Joplin Schools Superintendent Dr. C.J. Huff.  "I think that the main thing right now is just signage.  We have the safe rooms open - I think some of the community members had a hard time locating the door for which they needed to go into to get into the safe room, so I think the main thing for us right now is just looking at signage."

The Joplin School District has also provided a map of safe rooms in the area.

Reported April 27, 2014 - The Joplin School District's new safe rooms were put to the test Sunday afternoon and early evening.

When the sirens went off many in the community trusted that the doors at the school buildings with designated community shelters would be unlocked. But they weren’t in all cases.

Irving Elementary opened its doors a few minutes after the initial tornado watch was issued around one o’clock in the afternoon.

But when KOAM reporter Cailey Dougherty tried to find people at East Middle school and Soaring Heights Elementary, the doors were locked.

We called Superintendent CJ Huff who then contacted the person who was supposed to unlock the doors.

The shelter at Soaring Heights Elementary and East Middle School were opened around 4 p.m. and that's where we found some anxious residents.

Ben Callison admits, "It was scary."

While Wayne Paul of Duquesne expressed gratitude - "Thank God this is here now because we feel very safe in here."

Within minutes of the sirens sounding shaken Duquesne and Joplin residents began running in the door at the shelter at Soaring Heights Elementary and East Middle school to be safe in those shelters.

For many it brought back painful memories and the level of fear in the room was high.

Paul says "I don't care if it takes the car or home, but I don't want any loved ones to be in it."

The safe room volunteer at East, Ken Castleberry shares the fear.

"To be honest with you, it's been a couple years or what not, but you still have that, you look at the skies and it brings back a lot of stuff," says Castleberry.  "So, I want people to know that they can be secure at least in this facility."

Castleberry is the only volunteer who was in charge of making sure this safe room was open.  He says that's putting a lot of pressure on his shoulders.

"You know it's a huge responsibility but it's something that I'll take and I'll take that right now," says Castleberry.  "I would greatly appreciate some more volunteers to help me out you know, to be honest with you."

More volunteers could have helped with some of the confusion regarding which door to enter.

Alex Johnson says "I was nervous and I was pretty angry because I pulled over here and the door was locked, and so, I thought we weren't going to be able to get in."

Some say they thought all doors to the school would be unlocked during a warning, but that wasn't the case.

Fortunately, Alex and her cat, noticed cars pulling around to the shelter door which was open.

She says more guidance regarding which door is open would have alleviated some panic.

Alex says "when it's not a school day, for the public, I think they should make it a better announcement of where you're located, where you need to go."

Volunteers were also at the Irving School shelter and say it is important that the public knows which doors will be open during a tornado watch, so that the second a warning hits, the shelter is ready.

Wendy Henady, the Irving shelter volunteer, says “I think it's really important because after the tornado our community became very fearful. So, now that we have this safe room the whole community can come in and know that they're okay and that their family is okay."

While many residents were grateful for the security of a shelter, they say they were more than happy when the warning ended.

The fear in the room at East Middle school was palpable. Some were crying but certainly relieved to have had a safe place to ride out the storm.

The superintendent told KOAM that the person in charge of opening the safe room at East had an issue with a weather radio not functioning properly and missed the issuing of the tornado watch.

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