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Many had trouble getting into Joplin tornado shelters, lessons learned Sunday

Published On: Apr 29 2014 06:53:42 PM CDT   Updated On: Apr 29 2014 11:23:34 PM CDT

Sunday's storm turned into a good test for residents and volunteers.


After the terrible tornado in Joplin in 2011, community shelters and safe rooms couldn't be built fast enough.

Joplin dodged the bullet on Sunday when a twister struck nearby Baxter Springs, Kan., and Quapaw, Okla.  But many folks in Joplin struggled to get inside while warning sirens sounded, because they couldn't find the safe room entrance.

Fortunately, Joplin was unscathed this past Sunday and it turned out to be a really good lesson for the school district and hundreds of people who were trying to get into three brand new tornado safe rooms. 

When KY3 News drove onto campus at Soaring Heights Elementary, there was one sign at the beginning of the entrance, which sent you in the right direction, but then it was a little hard to find the entrance to the room because there is only one other small sign indicating where this safe room is.

However, going forward from Sunday, the school district superintendent says that is going to change.

Many voiced frustration over not being able to find where they needed to go.  Superintendent C.J. Huff says he is planning to get better signage, maybe even some flashing lights pointing you to the right place.

About 200 people took to community shelters in Joplin on Sunday, and Huff said it became a good time to recruit more volunteers to man the doors.

"In our particular case, we had a building and we only had one volunteer and he was there, but had he not been able to be there, we wouldn't have had a backup plan for him, per se," Huff said.  "For example, the event on Sunday was about a 12-hour commitment, from about 2:00 in afternoon until 2:00 in the morning, so, if they've got young families or are a single parent, they really have to think that through."

"I think they need to have a drill throughout the neighborhood, so people know where to go and what doors are open," said Joplin Senior High student Chelsey Pippin.

In Springfield, the shelters at school buildings are not manned by volunteers, but rather by paid staffers.

In Nixa, they are manned by volunteers, and the district is looking for about 25-30 more volunteers right now.  You can call (417) 449-3295 if you can help in Nixa.

The safe rooms are designed to hold everyone within a half-mile radius of the school.

In the next couple months, Huff says there will be a new, remote opening system.  So, from his lap top or cell phone, he will be allowed to unlock all the doors at the safe rooms to make sure people can get in when they need to get in.