School Safe Rooms Oklahoma

Five Steps in Conducting a School Tornado Assessment

This document is intended to provide the school the necessary information they need to provide to the assessment team when evaluating their existing school facility for the "best available area of refuge". This Five Step Process will detail what the school should expect during these assessments.

How the process begins:
The tornado assessment process begins with an initial meeting of school stakeholders to discuss existing safety concerns, emergency planning issues and areas for improvement. Participants should include representatives from the district, school and community response agencies to ensure diverse perspectives and expertise. Schools may also include administrators, buildings and grounds personnel, communications staff, school resource officers, local law enforcement, local fire department, student support staff, special education staff and others with an investment in the process.

Review the school emergency plan:
A team of at least three to five members should use the tornado assessment checklist to discuss and evaluate the school’s emergency plan, procedures, staff training, and other items that cannot be physically observed during a school walk-through. A copy of the school emergency plan should be available for this discussion. It is important to note that this assessment is not meant to evaluate the school’s preparedness or current practices or your safety plan.

Walk-through of the school building and grounds:
After reviewing the emergency plan, team members should walk through the school facility and grounds. Using the checklist as a guide, examine all aspects of the school’s interior and exterior. The time required to complete the evaluation depends on the size and purpose of the facility and the number of team members participating. Throughout the assessment process, written comments should be noted for later review. Take photographs and videos to highlight positive observations as well as potential hazards or areas for improvement. Thorough notes and visual documentation provide team members with the critical information necessary to generate a comprehensive and meaningful report.

What to expect the day of the tornado assessment:
Each tornado assessment team could consist of an Architect, a Structural Engineer, a FEMA representative, an Oklahoma Emergency Management representative, and a school representative(s). Before the day of the assessment the team will meet to identify possible best-available areas of refuge to be evaluated. On the day of the assessment the team will arrive and observe existing conditions around the interior and exterior of the facility. They will require access to spaces within and around the areas they identified for evaluation, including the area currently used in the event of a tornado. Each area will be surveyed and a recommendation will be made as to the “best available area of refuge”. It is important to note that this assessment is a “good, better, best” recommendation, and is not meant to evaluate the school’s preparedness or current practices or your safety plan.

Create a report and recommendations for improvement:
Team members should compile the results of all areas assessed in the tornado assessment checklist and create a report for school leadership. Formal reporting establishes a process of accountability that increases the likelihood of improvement and/or corrective action. If findings are not reported, then subsequent emergency plans and preparedness activities will not reflect or affect change.

The report should include documentation on successful prevention efforts and resources the school has already implemented along with the potential risks and areas of weakness identified during the assessment. The team may also make recommendations for improvements based on the assessment. Administrators can then prioritize solutions and proceed with a plan for addressing the most pressing tornado refuge safety concerns raised through the assessment process.

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