NewsWRTV Investigates


Schools and children vulnerable to tornadoes, Indiana Homeland Security says

Posted at 12:00 PM, Jul 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-30 21:36:32-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is at high risk for tornadoes, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which means our schools and children are vulnerable throughout the school year.

This map shows Indiana is at risk for high wind and tornado events with wind gusts of over 250 mph.

“As we build more things, there will be even more people potentially at risk,” Mary Moran, a branch director with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security Response & Recovery Division, said. “It can happen anywhere across the state.”

An average of 1,253 tornadoes happen in the United States every year, data shows, with Indiana averaging 22 twisters a year.

Peak tornado season here in central Indiana is spring into early summer with a secondary season in the fall.

PREVIOUS | Here’s what you need to know about tornadoes in Indiana

“Every school and every child are potentially impacted by tornadoes,” Moran said.

As students head back to school, Call 6 Investigates is digging into whether Indiana schools could be doing more to protect children.

Our schools and students are often in the path of destruction when tornadoes strike.

We’ve seen both urban and rural areas hit by tornadoes in recent years, including the June 15 damage to Beech Grove High School.

RELATED COVERAGE | Beech Grove schools considering tornado shelter as district cleans up

A basement is one of the safest places to be during a tornado, but unfortunately, most schools in Indiana do not have basements.

Most schools do not have tornado shelters, nor do they have safe rooms, because they’re not required by Indiana law or building codes, RTV6 found.

“Safety is number one when it comes to education,” Nicole Purlee, a mother of two who lives in Salem, said.

Purlee worries about tornadoes, especially after Henryville’s 2012 deadly tornado that touched ground too close to home.

“These are our babies, these are our kids, and we need to put their safety first and foremost,” Purlee said.

One study ranked the Hoosier state as the 17th highest for tornado damage costs with half a billion dollars in damage from 1996 to 2017.

Call 6 Investigates found other states with laws or building codes in place requiring storm shelters on newly constructed schools including Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan.

Ohio also passed a similar rule for newly constructed schools but the state postponed the requirement until September 2020 so the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission can study the issue.

For new schools, the requirements call for storm shelters to have space for every student and teacher in the building.

Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky average fewer tornadoes than Indiana, yet neighboring states have regulations in place to include tornado shelters in new school buildings.

Although there’s no law requiring shelters in Indiana, our Call 6 team has learned there’s funding available for schools to build tornado shelters and safe rooms.

But many schools are not applying for the funding.

Tonight on the News at 11:00, we’ll show you how much money is available, how schools can apply and exactly how the money works to keep your kids safe.

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