Sunday, August 17, 2008

About FEMA Shelters

.Mark McCormick's "if-you-can't-beat-'em-ridicule-'em" column in today's Eagle recalls something that was a very important issue in days of yore before the aviation magnet.

The Marketing and Communications Department at USD 259 spent a great deal of energy portraying the Bond plan as being primarily for building FEMA shelters at USD 259 schools. Obviously, everyone wants Wichita children to have a safe shelter during severe weather. So what exactly is a "FEMA Shelter" and how important are they?

In 2000 the first edition of FEMA publication 361 "Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters" was published. This document presents important information about the design and construction of community shelters that will provide protection during tornado and hurricane events.

Two years later, in 2002, FEMA produced a study on Kansas Schools and the Wichita School District specifically: "Protecting School Children from Tornadoes: State of Kansas School Shelter Initiative" This report was very complimentary of Wichita Schools, stating that the district had taken "decisive action to protect the children in its schools" and that USD 259 "led by example" spurring shelter construction in other areas of the state.

Julie Hedrick, USD 259 supervisor of architectural services is quoted on the inside cover: "How wonderful it is for students, staff, and parents to have a place to go while at school so that they will feel safe and secure during tornado activity."

Unfortunately, after basking in the initial glowing reports, the school district leadership completely failed the children of Wichita. Going page by page through the USD 259 website reveals that there are 91 schools in the district, 46 have had significant construction since the School Shelter report was published without including a FEMA shelter as part of the construction.

Since 2002 over half of all Wichita schools have undergone major renovation or additional construction but still do not have any shelter that meets the guidelines set out in FEMA publication 361.

The District's misplaced priorities and decision not to include FEMA shelters as part of new school construction placed our children at risk.

Their mismanagement has resulted in costing more in the process. The 2002 FEMA report estimated that building an addition on a school would cost only $40 per square foot more than normal $115/sqft if built to FEMA 361 standards. As Martin Libhart can tell you, construction costs go up over time.

FEMA shelters should have been included in all construction in the last six years. That did not happen, and no one is being held accountable.

While McCormick continues to engage in his childish tantrums on the pages of the Eagle instead of digging for facts, Wichita voters are left to figure out on their own just how important FEMA shelters really are? They are, after all, for the children..... just not until there is a need to justify a new bond.


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