Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

SAFE ROOMS POPULAR IN WAKE OF STORMS; Several in SW Missouri; Hard- Hit Areas Show Need for Protection.; Teachers React Quickly; They Save Children in Oklahoma Twister.; Rescue Nearly Complete; Death Toll Drops to 24 in Oklahoma. A5

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

SAFE ROOMS POPULAR IN WAKE OF STORMS; Several in SW Missouri; Hard- Hit Areas Show Need for Protection.; Teachers React Quickly; They Save Children in Oklahoma Twister.; Rescue Nearly Complete; Death Toll Drops to 24 in Oklahoma. A5

Article excerpt

Brad Erwin was in junior high in August 1990, when a tornado destroyed much of his hometown of Plainfield, Ill., including two schools.

Twenty-nine people died. Erwin believes the death toll could have been much higher had it been one day later, when hundreds of children were to fill classrooms and start the school year.

Now he's obsessed with preventing such a disaster.

Erwin runs an architecture firm in Springfield, Mo., that designs and builds tornado-safe rooms in schools structures with walls and ceilings so strong, and footings so deep, they should withstand wind stronger than what destroyed schools in Oklahoma City this week.

In three years, Erwin's company, Paragon Architecture, has worked on 37 tornado-safe rooms at schools and community centers across Missouri. The firm also has an office in Joplin, Mo., where it worked with the school district to apply for grants to build 16 safe rooms in schools across the city.

Whenever there's a tornado, Erwin sees an uptick in interest. Tuesday alone, he received half a dozen calls from schools and businesses.

"Unfortunately, it takes events like these to remind us that we have to protect ourselves," he said.

On a national level, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and tornadoes in recent years are behind a boom in safe rooms. They're designed to hold large numbers of people at community centers and in schools.

The structures must be able to survive debris driven by 250 mph wind, Erwin says. Walls are made of precast concrete slabs and insulation, 14 inches thick. Any glass used for windows must be able to withstand a 2-by-4 shot at it from a cannon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency encourages the construction of safe rooms, offering to pick up 75 percent of the tab if school districts or local governments successfully apply for funding. In Missouri, applications for these hazard mitigation grants go through the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

Tornado-safe rooms have been constructed at 58 schools or community sites across the state since 2004, according to the state emergency management agency. An additional 86 are in the planning stages, including one in Charlack in north St. …

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