Reporting Heather Brown
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Near the doorway of an Anoka-Hennepin School District classroom is an emergency guide. One of the tabs reads “tornado.” Alongside the guide is also a map of the school. Some of the rooms are colored yellow to signify they are safe evacuation zones.
Anoka-Hennepin’s Chief Operations Officer Chuck Holden walked WCCO through the pre-school classrooms at the district’s headquarters in Anoka. He pointed out areas where the kids are and aren’t safe. One hallway with skylights is considered off-limits during a tornado warning.
“It has the potential of breaking through a wind tunnel and it has a doorway at each end and this is an area we would keep kids away from,” Holden said.
There’s no basement in this school because the water table is too high, so kids go to interior rooms, sit on the floor and cover their heads. He pointed out a conference room that could fit 35-40 students.
“This is an excellent room because it has block walls, no exterior windows and the roof area above is very small,” he said.
The state requires every school to do one annual tornado drill, five fire drills and five lockdown drills. They plan for the worst, but know an EF5 tornado like the one in Moore, OK or a EF4 like the one that destroyed a high school in Wadena in 2010, are especially dangerous.
“It would be foolish of me to say any school building will stand up to that force of nature,” said Charlene Briner with the MN Department of Education. “I think what we can do is make sure we’re prepared, know the communication plans in place and communicate our kids are as safe as possible.”
In Wadena, the district learned from its tornado damage even though kids had been let out of school by the time the twister hit. Superintendent Dr. Virginia Dahlstrom said their interior hallways weren’t protected from debris and glass. They’ve since built a $1 million community storm shelter than can hold 1,200 people.
In Anoka-Hennepin, plans are continually being reassessed. Every time a room, door or even window is added in a school, officials evaluate the emergency plan.
“Our plans are individualized,” Holden said. “Right down to the classroom.”