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Red tape delays installation of street signs directing drivers to tornado shelter

Three months after it promised to work with DeKalb County, county officials complain that the state of Alabama has dragged its feet over what would seem to be the simplest of requests -- signs directing people to a tornado shelter.

In May, Fox News shone a spotlight on what county officials described as a ridiculous example of red tape getting in the way of public safety. Charles Warren, the local school superintendent, wanted to put up signs on state Highway 35 directing motorists to the brand-new tornado shelter at Plainview High School. After the school was severely damaged in the super-storm outbreak of April 2011, FEMA put up $500,000 to build a 600-person tornado shelter on campus.

Under an agreement with FEMA, DeKalb quickly put up signs on county roads directing people to the shelter, but the main thoroughfare in the town of Rainsville is owned by the state, which said it didn't want shelter signs cluttering up Highway 35. A state DOT official even suggested they could be a hazard to motorists.

Warren, who says he hasn't had any recent contact with DOT officials, can't understand why the state hasn’t yet made good on its promise. It's not a cost issue. Warren says he would pay for the signs out of his budget.

"We have a great facility (the tornado shelter)," Warren told Fox News. "But in the absence of informational signs, many motorists will not know about the availability of the shelter."

When Fox News contacted Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley's office for an update, Tony Harris, an official with ALDOT, explained that DOT had been waiting for the Alabama Emergency Management Agency to approve the "operational plan" for the shelter before going ahead with the signs.

That plan, according to Harris, has now been approved and the order has gone out to make the signs, which will likely be small, rectangular signs with words such as "Tornado Shelter" across center.

They should be installed "within several weeks," according to ALDOT.

Superintendent Warren is pleased to hear that the signs will be going in, but is still baffled as to why it took so long.

"I think there has been a sufficient amount of time for the state to have completed this project," Warren told Fox News. "We have had the other signs up on city streets for several weeks."

Thirty people died in DeKalb county in the massive tornado outbreak April 27, 2011.

John Roberts joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in January 2011 as a senior national correspondent and is based in the Atlanta bureau.