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School Safe

Tornado warning systems save lives—when people have tornado shelters. Tornado shelters saves lives—when people have warning. One hand must wash the other. The cost of proper tornado warnings often requires that we only pay attention. Storm shelters, on the other hand, are still very expensive and the people that need them the most are often the ones that can't afford them. Over 21 million people in the United States are in need of storm protection.
Even with a 36-minute tornado warning, many of the residents of Moore, Oklahoma had to “ride out” the vicious May 20 tornado in bathtubs, closets, and center hallways. This situation is considered the norm for thousands of communities in “Tornado Alley,” where basements are often not an option because of the expense or when rocky and wet soils are present. The main alternative to a basement is an above-ground structure called a “safe room” that is often put in a garage, closet, or on the property. Unfortunately, these structures typically cost over $3,000 so many people can’t afford them or consider the risk of being in a tornado not worth the expense. The 24 people killed and hundreds injured in the Moore tornado would have been less likely if they had a proper shelter. Nine children were among the 24 dead, including seven who died at Plaza Towers Elementary School. The Moore tornado has exposed the vulnerability of our children to injury and death during tornadoes, due to lack of shelter in our schools.

School Safe is a spin-off of Real Greenius, LLC’s Project JOMO, which was created to help provide storm shelters for the children of Joplin. School Safe is much like Project JOMO, but its focus is putting safe rooms into schools. Project JOMO was created with the idea of affordable safe rooms and storm shelters. Project JOMO’s founder, Russel Gehrke, made the observation that nearly all of the composite plastic playgrounds of Joplin’s EF5 tornado on May 22, 2011, had survived the storm, with many only having a few scratches, while the property around the playgrounds lay in ruins.



Want to know more about Project JOMO? Check out the news story about Project JOMO:

With this in mind, Gehrke set a goal to make affordable (as well as donated) storm shelters to the thousands of people in Joplin and Tornado Alley in desperate need of adequate shelter. With the data collected by Gehrke and hundreds of hours of research, development, impact and lab testing, a system and method to produce and build the shelters was created.

The production and installation of Project JOMO’s patent pending shelters are a combination of long-time work experience, “off the shelf” fabrication technologies, industrial partners, volunteers, and charitable and professional organizations. The partnerships developed by Real Greenius through Project JOMO keep our costs low so these shelters and safe rooms cost thousands less than conventional technologies and out preform them. Our shelters and safe rooms can be found at homes in Joplin Missouri, the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, and even on a golf course in Chanute Kansas (doubles as a restroom).

The School Safe safe room will use the same technologies found in current safe rooms, but with the exception of the outer wall being made with metal and our composite materials. This wall is thinner and lighter than our cement-filled shelters, but just as strong, to protect students from both severe weather and even gun fire if needed. The advantage with the School Safe is that its outer wall is on linear bearings and tracks, so it slides in and out as to not take up much needed classroom space. When the wall is extended, it only takes a few seconds to secure the wall pins/locks, get the children inside, and lock the door down. The unit installs in the front of the classroom with the white board or chalk board attached to the rolling wall section. The key here is that we don’t want to waste classroom space.

We also encourage the School Safe safe room to be used as the classrooms club house at least once a week, where the students hang their artwork, have story time, or do a project in it. It is important that the students consider the safe room as their space and not be frightened to use it.

Why School Safe?

The children that survive tornadoes are greatly affected by the damage left behind that destroyed their community. These children and their families need shelter because a tornado threatens their usual assumptions of safety. School Safe plans on being a big part of the recovery process by providing these children and their families peace of mind from future storms and give them safe place to go at school via a storm shelter.



Tornadoes and a Community’s Mental Health

Tornadoes are unusual storms, as their path is often erratic. In the same neighborhood, some houses may be leveled completely while others sustain little damage. While scattered destruction can be easier on the community than that of a flood or a hurricane—the inconsistent pattern of damage can cause feelings of guilt in those spared or unfairness in those recovering. Children may develop unusual ideas or myths about why a tornado did or did not hit their home.

Children may also see anxiety and fear in parents and caregivers who are usually confident. They may have lost their homes and cherished pets, memorabilia, and toys. They constantly see the collapsed or damaged buildings like their schools or other familiar landmarks. They encounter rubble, debris, or other wreckage, and many experienced the horror of seeing severely injured people and even dead bodies.


As with other natural disasters, there may be a spectrum of psychological casualties. Individuals with pre-existing emotional and behavioral problems may get worse if their support systems fail and their routines destabilize. Others may develop chronic emotional and behavioral problems following exposure to pervasive stresses, such as the loss of community infrastructure, home, or family or friends. In addition, emotional and physical exhaustion may affect individuals or the whole families’ ability to recover.

Post Traumatic Issues

Typical traumatic reminders include tornado watches and warnings, thunderstorms, dark clouds, high winds, and hail during which they suddenly re-live and re-experience the emotions, fears, thoughts, and perceptions they experienced at the time of the tornado.

Common emotional reactions of children and family members exposed to a tornado include:

• Feelings of insecurity, unfairness, anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, despair, and worries about the future

• Fear that another tornado will occur

• Believing myths or folklore as to the cause of the tornado

• Disruptive behaviors, irritability, temper tantrums, agitation, or hyperactivity

• Clinging/dependent behaviors and phobic symptoms

• Physical symptoms, such as stomachaches, headaches, loss of appetite, nightmares, or sleep problems

• Increased concerns regarding the safety of family members, friends, and loved ones

• School-based problems with decreased motivation and school perform

Having an “at-school” or even “near-home” storm shelter can be a powerful tool to help children and adults deal with the frequent traumatic reminders, provide them an anchor, and help them heal.

When we reach the funding goal for our School Safe project, those funds will help us produce safe rooms to protect students in schools that request our services. We’ll have a portable unit mounted on a truck and trailer so we can take it to schools and show what it does and how it works to administrators. If we exceed our funding goal, we will continue to use those funds to place more safe rooms into schools.

Storm shelters for storm-ravaged communities are no longer a “want”… but a “need” if not only for their peace of mind.