Tornado Prompts Oklahoma Schools to Evaluate Policy

April 27, 2012

A tornado that struck Norman, Okla., shortly after middle-school students were dismissed for the day has led the district to re-evaluate its emergency communication policy.

No one was hurt in the April 13 tornado, but Norman Public Schools Superintendent Joe Siano said there was some confusion as 68 buses were out on the streets as the severe weather approached the area.

Siano told The Norman Transcript that communication was a “tremendous challenge” after the storm knocked out cellphone towers and land line connections.

“We intermittently lost connection with our sites and the buses’ radio connection was both erratic and confused, with lots of different people on at once, all trying to report their respective situations,” he said.

The district has bought new radios equipped with GPS for the school buses and they should be installed by August, Siano said.

“This way, we’ll know exactly where each bus is without their having to report it, and we’ll be able to pinpoint which buses are nearest the storm or event,” he said.

During the April 13 storm, bus drivers were told to proceed to the nearest school, but Siano said that’s not always the best plan because it could lead drivers directly into a tornado’s path. By pinpointing those buses directly affected by a storm, the district will be able to avoid sending otherwise unaffected buses back into a storm’s path as they try to return to a school site, he said.

Despite the confusion, Siano said he was pleased overall with how the school responded to the bad weather.

“All of our pieces are there, and our staff worked very hard and very well to deal with as many aspects of the situation as could be controlled, but we learned a lot of lessons in the communication piece,” Siano said. “We’ve addressed the major concerns with communication and will continue to address more as time goes on.”

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