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On May 22, 2011, an EF5 tornado ripped through Joplin, Missouri, earning the dubious title of deadliest U.S. tornado in 68 years, claiming 158 lives and generating $2.8 billion in damages as wind speeds exceeded 200 mph.
The bad news is that dangerous storms will no doubt affect Missouri again; the good news is Joplin and nearby areas have been reconstructing with increased safety in mind.
One example is the Webb City High School gymnasium that acts as a community safe shelter available 24/7 and hosts sporting events in the meantime. Webb City is a five-minute drive from Joplin, and in July 2014, Dome Technology completed the safe shelter that meets ICC-500 specifications. Whenever the storm siren starts shrieking, 2,600 people can now seek shelter within the gym.
When planning, the district’s first priority was the protection of students and staff, but including the community was also a must. “With the Joplin tornado in 2011, we felt the need to construct shelters that would not only protect our students, but also our entire community. In addition to the massive tornado in Joplin, we have also seen deadly storms in many neighboring communities. Prior to our construction, our town had no place to go in the event of dangerous weather,” said Dr. Kevin Cooper, Webb City R-VII School District assistant superintendent.
Under Cooper’s leadership, the district applied for and received seven FEMA grants to offset costs for seven shelters, four of which are available for community use. According to Cooper, the Webb City High School gym is one of the largest safe shelters in the state.
The district further capitalized on the safe shelter by having it finished as a gymnasium. “The building of the gym was more of a luxury. It was not a must that we build the gym; we just had the opportunity to build a very large facility that would serve the essential purpose of community protection, while at the same time giving our students and athletes a great place for competition and for physical-education classes,” Cooper said.
Since its completion the gym has been used as a safe shelter three times. The first time, a tornado warning was issued with a minor touchdown two miles away; approximately 1,000 citizens and students sought shelter in the gym and passed the time shooting hoops. Many didn’t realize how aggressive the storm was because they couldn’t hear the wind or feel the structure move, Cooper said.
That level of protection plus cost effectiveness are two advantages of domes as safe shelters. “Depending on the needs, I would strongly recommend the dome concept. By using a dome, we are able to build a much larger facility on the budget that was provided,” Cooper said.