In advance of the springtime severe weather season for the Plains, Joplin, Missouri, a town that has seen extensive damage in recent years, is in the process of finalizing a plan for 14 community safe rooms.
Safe rooms are above-ground buildings designed to withstand the strength of an EF5 tornado, according to criteria established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency states that rooms which meet this criteria will provide "near-absolute" protection against extreme weather events.
The plan, funded collaboratively between FEMA and the Joplin School District, would make school safe rooms, equipped with generators, emergency supplies and restrooms, available to the public during severe weather situations.
"Sometime well before the sirens go off, the safe rooms would be open for the public to come in and take refuge," Mike Johnson, director of construction for Joplin schools said in an interview with JET14.
The planning committee is still working on the details, Johnson said, but the city plans to encourage the community to use these at the first sign of severe weather instead of at the last minute.
The structures will be open for use once the National Weather Service issues a tornado watch or warning for the area or when a severe weather event in the areas is anticipated to deliver winds in excess of 75 mph, regardless of whether schools are in session.
Joplin is no stranger to tornado outbreaks. The city has felt the effects of several in recent history, including a massive twister that pillaged the area in May of 2011. The tornado leveled area homes, businesses and the local hospital, killing more than 150.
"It was truly like a war scene. There was so much destruction and devastation. You could barely get down some roads," Gary Pulsipher, president of St. John's Mercy Hospital, told AccuWeather.com in 2012.
Most of the 14 safe rooms will double as gymnasiums for the elementary schools, with the exception of one choir room in Joplin High School and one field house room at the High School stadium.
Construction is complete on seven of the 14 planned structures.