Target 8 Tornado Shelters

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COLUMBIA - Living in tornado alley, you probably know where to go in your home if there is a tornado warning; perhaps it's to your basement or hall closet. But what about in other areas? If you're on a lunch break, at a movie, or shopping downtown?

"There are safe areas downtown, but they're not officially identified, as in I could hand somebody a map and say, 'Here's your safe places to go'," Boone County Fire Protection District Spokeswoman Martina Pounds said.

In a special weather edition of Target 8, KOMU-8 Weathercaster Kenton Gewecke set out to see if businesses and employers in Columbia know where their tornado safe areas are located and if they'd know where to direct employees or customers.

He went into businesses first with a voice recorder and asked whoever was working where they would have customers go during a tornado warning. He later returned to the same businesses to discuss whether they had formal policies in place.

Most businesses Gewecke visited had an idea of where to send people, usually to a windowless room in the back of the store or business.

Some places, like the Columbia Mall, had a specific tornado policy in place. Employees in stores were able to tell Gewecke exactly how they would handle a tornado threat. Mall management reiterated that policy when Gewecke returned to the shopping center for a formal interview.

"Usually the sirens will go off and that is kind of our cue," Columbia Mall Common Area Coordinator Stephanie Smith said. "We encourage people in our common area to go into our service corridors, which is our most secure location in the mall in cases of there being a tornado."

Most other businesses, like Harold's Doughnuts, didn't have a specific policy in place, but employees knew the safest place in the building to take customers if there was a tornado threat.

"I guess we haven't really talked about it too much, but we talked about it today because the weather was a little weird... but yeah, we've got a little back room back there," an employee told Gewecke.

Later, Gewecke spoke to the store owner, and he showed the safe area his employees referenced and said the business would allow people from outside to come in during an emergency. Harold's does not have a formal policy in place, but the owner has plans to solidify a policy.

"No, not an official one. Nope. We've been here now three months. So that's down the list a bit," Harold's Doughnuts owner Michael Urban said. "But maybe we need to get it up to the forefront of the list because we're entering severe weather season and now that we're thinking about it, it's certainly something we need to take stock of."

Gewecke also visited the University of Missouri, which is the largest employer in Columbia. Most students had good guesses on where to go during a tornado warning, but many said they learned that information in elementary school, not from formal training at MU.

"I'd go to the lowest floor where there's no windows. That's what I learned in elementary school," one student said.

MU Emergency Management Specialist Eric Evans said campus buildings have safe areas, but they are not necessarily marked with tornado shelter signs.

"No there aren't really because we don't have a formal tornado sheltering program. We don't have them built by FEMA standards or anything like that. We just get them to the right spot, to the safest place in that building," Evans said.

Evans works with building coordinators and largely relies on faculty and staff who are regularly in the same buildings to help guide students.

"We're constantly reaching out to faculty and staff and when we can talk to students about it, we talk to students," Evans said.

If you'd like help coming up with a tornado safety plan, Gewecke is available to help. You may contact him at [email protected]. You can also click on the "Meet the Team" page on this website.