Some Arkansas Cities Mapping Storm Shelters

Officials in at least two Arkansas cities are asking their residents to let them know if they have storm shelters, while a third says he wants to update his city’s maps of the shelters.

Arkansas storm shelter. Photo: Charles S. Powell/FEMA
Arkansas storm shelter. Photo: Charles S. Powell/FEMA

City officials in Searcy have asked residents to let them know if and where they have shelters or basements used for refuge when tornadoes threaten the central Arkansas town.

Fort Smith also has asked residents to register their tornado shelters and safe rooms with the city’s Police Department. In the event of severe weather, the department will provide a list of registered shelters and safe rooms to emergency responders to aid search-and-rescue efforts.

The requests follow a May 20 tornado that killed 24 people in Moore, Okla., and left hundreds trapped in debris and rubble after the storm.

“Debris, fallen trees and structural damage can easily block a storm shelter exit,” Doug Baker, Searcy’s emergency management coordinator, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Conway already has such a list, compiled by the Faulkner County Fire Department in 1999, said Conway Fire Chief Bart Castleberry. He said the city probably knew of more than 100 storm shelters and now wants to update the list for the city that has a population of about 60,470.

“We have just recently asked people to” provide such information again,” Castleberry said. “Conway has grown so much (that) we felt it was time to update everything.”

Castleberry said the Fire Department is also sharing the information with the city’s Planning Department, which can put it on a GPS program.

In Little Rock, Arkansas Department of Emergency Management spokesman Brandon Morris said this was the first time he had heard of an Arkansas city starting such a list. He said the agency has no policy recommendation.

“We sort of let the locals do their own thing because all disasters are local,” Morris said. “If a city wants to make such a list, then the state agency supports the idea,” he said.

Shelia McGhee, director of the Faulkner County Office of Emergency Management, said that her office has never compiled a shelter list.

Arkansas storm shelter built in 1925. Photo: Charles S. Powell/FEMA
Arkansas storm shelter built in 1925. Photo: Charles S. Powell/FEMA

“That is something that I’m looking at and would like to gather this information,” she said, adding that she already has been looking at computer software that would help with this process, but said she doesn’t know when the county can buy it.

In the meantime, McGhee encourages residents to call her office, which will make a note of shelter locations in its database.

“Our emergency responders are trained to look for tornado shelters,” she said, but it’s good to have such information beforehand.