Vincent Scott, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, community development, energy management assistant, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, Governor, Eddie Hamilton, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, Lt. Governor, Cornell Sankey and Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, community development, coordinator, Melvin Romannose check out the inside of the in ground storm shelter with tribal children (Back row) Nylah Brown, 5, Carley Kihega, 7 Tina Ortiz, 8, Elicia Hulbutta, 6, (Front Row) Annabella Ferrell 4, Adriana Halfred, 7, Maisie Hulbutta, 4, Ross Island, 5 and Aden Sam, 5 that was installed at the Concho Child Development Center on May 21, 2014. Photo By: Rebecka D. Lyman.
CONCHO, OKLAHOMA — Storm shelters for Oklahoma Public School students is a hot topic at the state Capitol in Oklahoma City. Controversy about the cost to install storm shelters throughout Oklahoma public schools is the subject of conversation in the Oklahoma State legislation.
The question is, is there a price tag on the lives of children in Oklahoma?
Lilliana Richey 4, smiles and claps her hands after the red ribbon for the newly installed storm shelters at the Concho Development Center in Concho, Okla.
To the left of Lilliana is, l-r: Elias Neal 4 yrs old, Alaniyi Rednose 4 yrs old,
On the right side of Lilliana is, l-r: Jasmine Starr 4 yrs old, Jazmine Eaglenest 4 yrs old. Photo by Rebecka D. Lyman.
The Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes say no there isn’t. They are taking no chances with their children’s safety as they complete eight storm shelters in Concho and Clinton, Okla., for children who attend the child development centers and head start centers.
“To me the shelters are what has been needed for our kids safety and well being,” Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Governor Eddie Hamilton said.
On May 21, 2014 staff and children from Concho Head Start and the Child Development Center stood together as each child cut through the red ribbon and then curiously entered the newly installed in-ground storm shelter located at the Concho Child Development Center in Concho, Okla.
“I am glad that we know that our kids will be safe in times of natural disasters, when or if they come through the tribes’ campus,” Governor Hamilton said.
In May 2013 the most devastating events occurred when violent EF5 tornado’s struck El Reno, Shawnee and Moore, Oklahoma. The tornado on May 20, 2013 damaged or destroyed more than 13,000 homes and killed 24 people, including seven children that died while taking shelter inside Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma.
“We do monthly tornado drills, but with the new shelters we plan on completing weekly drills until we feel comfortable with the procedures. We have infants and toddlers at the center so we really want to get it down pat to make sure we are able to get everyone in safe and secure,” Megan Hart, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, Concho Child Development Center, director said. “I will, of course, be creating a new tornado procedure for the storm shelters as soon as possible and we plan on doing a tornado drill, if not by the end of this week, by early next week.”
Brian Routt, owner of Smart Shelters, Inc. said the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes is the first Native American Nation his company manufactured and installed in ground storm shelters for.
“We have manufactured eight shelters total, two for the Concho child development center, two for the Concho Head Start and four for the Clinton Head Start, which will be installed next week weather permitting,” Routt said. “The storm shelters we provided the tribes are in ground and are the safest around. The shelters are equipped with a watertight and shock assist lid that allows easy opening and closing. The lids are also designed to withstand an EF5 tornado.”
The shelters are 8’ wide, 12’ long and 7’ tall, which can hold 27-30 people and are coated with a marine-grade coal tar and are covered with a lifetime warranty.
Vincent Scott, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Community Development and Energy Management assistant, stated Smart Shelters, Inc. graciously gave the tribes a discounted cost of $40,000 to manufacture and install all eight shelters.
“I began this company three-years ago, because I care about people,” Routt said. “We are out here to save lives.”
Efforts to fund or require shelters statewide, so far, have been stalled in the political process, with Republicans and Democrats disagreeing about how to fund upgrades, new safe rooms or in ground storm shelters. Republicans, in a plan enodrsed by Oklahoma Govenor Mary Fallin, want to let school districts hold local elections to decide if they should issue extra bonds to pay for construction.
“I think it needs to pass to have in ground storm shelters installed at all the schools in Oklahoma and any other state that has tornados,” Routt said. “The problem is though the regulations for the larger storm shelters that will fit 70 people or more are ridiculous, they want restrooms and a bed, but when a tornado hits, there is no restroom and no bed. So I ask myself, why the politicians want to mandate that for storm shelter companies.”
Currently, far too many students in Oklahoma remain unprotected.
Hamilton said the tribes Tax Commission funded the cost of the shelters from the severance tax monies the tribes have collected.
“The Tax Commission actually went through the process of approving the units and finding a vendor who would install them for the budgeted monies we had for the shelters,” Hamilton said. “I am very pleased with Smart Shelters, Inc. and all of the hard work they have dedicated to keeping our children safe.”
A survey commissioned by the office of Oklahoma representative, Joe Dorman, a Democrat who favors statewide shelter funding, found more than 60 percent of the 1,804 public schools surveyed in Oklahoma say they do not have a shelter or safe room.
That leaves more than 500,000 students and staff in the sate without shelter.
Efforts to improve school safety often have been criticized as overly expensive. The SAFE Design Group, and architectural firm that analyzed the survey, estimated it would cost up to $880 million.
FEMA continues to assist disaster survivors and are encouraged to register for assistance. For more information visit www.fema.gov.
Editor’s Note: This article was provided to the Native News Online by Rebecka Lyman, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune.