Cincinnati-area school districts review tornado plans

PENDLETON COUNTY - Local school administrators are double-checking to make sure their tornado and severe weather plans are up-to-date.

The deaths of seven students at an elementary school at Moore, Okla., and the horrible images of devastation from the Oklahoma City area are a wake-up call for everyone – especially after the deadly tornadoes here on March 2, 2012.

The Pendleton County School District, with 2,400 students in several buildings, has one crisis plan drafted for everyone to follow. For tornadoes, it calls for students to be sent to hallways in the center of the school or restrooms that are more solidly enclosed.

There are weather radios in every classroom and regular discussions with administrators about what's expected.

"We talk with our principals all the time in regular meetings dealing with management issues like that -- making sure they're continually aware of things that are happening," said Superintendent Anthony Strong. "Also, we try to monitor the weather ourselves at the district level to make sure we're on top of that because sometimes things happen and there's very short notice and we've got to be able to respond very quickly."

Tornado drills are held twice a year -- during the first month of school and in March.

No one at Pendleton County High School is more aware of tornadoes than Keith Steele.  Some 15 months ago, an early-evening tornado ripped into his home on Route 10 in Peach Grove while his family huddled in a basement cistern.

"It was pretty scary. We didn't really know what was going on," Steele said.

Steele is very sympathetic to what's taking place in Oklahoma.

"I know the feeling. I could relate to them. We had to move out. I knew what it was like to lose some things and I felt bad for them," Steele said.

It's that combination of 2012 and 2013 that prompted counselors in the Pendleton County School District to be more visible Tuesday.

"It was not really anything formalized, but just informally talking to the students and reassuring them that we do have plans in place and that we're in tune when there's a threat or a danger in the area," said counselor Karen Delaney.

And if a tornado comes back to Pendleton County, Superintendent Strong is confident they'll be ready.

"It's about proper training and planning and making sure everyone knows where they're supposed to go and when the alarm sounds and to get to those locations," he said.

That gives comfort to Keith's dad, Troy Steele.

"I feel pretty confident in our superintendent, the schools and our administration," he said "They are good leaders and they can get the kids in the proper places."

Tornado drills are held twice annually -- once in the first two weeks of the school year and the other in March.

Keith Steele is one student who takes them very seriously.

"Because it can happen to anyone," he said. "You never know when it's going to happen to you.  We didn't think we were going to hit by a tornado on March 2, but it happened."
 

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