Local university prepares for dangerous storms, builds shelters - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Local university prepares for dangerous storms, builds shelters

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PHENIX CITY, AL (WTVM) -

The tornado that swept through Oklahoma Monday leveled an elementary school, leaving nearly 100 students in the eye of the storm.

As rescue workers continue to sift through debris searching for survivors all over Oklahoma, News Leader 9 spoke with local officials in the Valley who say they are taking measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening here.

We all can remember the devastation left behind after a tornado tore through parts of Alabama two years ago, striking schools, neighborhoods, and killing dozens.

"The tornado hit schools; luckily, we didn't lose any children," says David M. White, Ph.D. White is the Troy State University Vice chancellor for the Phenix City campus.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Oklahoma. The memory became a reality once again when an even larger tornado raged through Oklahoma destroying schools, homes, and lives.

The EF-4 tornado that ripped through Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas sprung the Alabama legislature into action. A year later, a law was passes to help protect students during dangerous storms.

"We're one of the first new schools to build a new building under these construction requirements," White says.

The new requirements state all federally funded schools, including universities, that plan to build or add on buildings after August 1, 2012 must build safe rooms or storm shelters that will fit everyone on campus.

"[They have to be strong] enough to stand up to an EF-5 tornado, which is winds in excess of 250 miles per hour," says White.

Officials say they plan to break ground around July but these won't look like your average storm shelters.

"We're so close to the river we felt we shouldn't go below the subsurface. We're going to build those safe rooms into the first floor," says White.

Should an EF-5 tornado like the one that struck Oklahoma come through the Chattahoochee Valley, students and faculty will be shuffled into the safe rooms.

"On the first floor we'll have two safe rooms, they'll look like classrooms but they'll be engineered like bunkers. They'll be very strong and able to stand up to those kinds of storms should they hit." says White.

It may look like a classroom but it's built like a traditional bunker. Students will be surrounded by a combination of steel and cement. The walls, ceiling, and doors will all be thicker.  At least 600 people will be able to stand inside the safe rooms.

"It's really designed to be temporary anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours," White says.

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