KELLER, Texas - A North Texas high school has been declared the first and so far only ‘storm ready’ school in the state.
But Keller's Timber Creek High School did not have to make any renovations to earn the title.
Jason McLaughlin is a teacher in Keller and a storm chaser. In May 2013, he was chasing tornados in Moore, Oklahoma, when an EF-5 tornado killed seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School
McLaughlin is an assistant principal at a Keller Middle School, but he was teaching at Timber Creek High School when he helped develop a plan that makes Timber Creek the first school in Texas to be designated ‘storm ready’ by the National Weather Service. The plan includes direct communication with the weather service to get as much advanced notice as possible.
“We're able to get 3,200 students into a safe room with no windows, downstairs within four minutes,” he said. “Huge accomplishment versus being in hallways, which is how it was in sometimes five to eight minutes just to get to a hallway."
Timber Creek has large open common spaces with lots of windows. With no new construction or alterations, the National Weather Service helped the school identify and mark safe rooms for sheltering people quickly.
"What makes it storm safe — no access to windows and has solid four walls,” explained Timber Creek Assistant Principal James Johnson.
From the classroom to the tragic scenes left by powerful storms and tornados, there are lessons learned.
"Usually the interior, smaller rooms are still there. That happened in Moore, Oklahoma,” McLaughlin said. “As well the closets are still visible from images looking down at the campus afterward.”
It's important to point out that it doesn't mean other schools are not safe. They all have their own safety and emergency plans. The National Weather Service can add to that and make them ‘storm ready,’ especially by making direct access to the weather service a key element of their communication.