Storm preparation: Getting Lawrence ready for 'the big one'

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Like any city, Lawrence stands to lose a lot of if a tornado tears through. Now, city officials are working to improve their emergency plans to avoid a disaster like the one in Moore, Okla.

As the mother of 3-year-old Milo, Missy Combs couldn't help but feel for parents in Oklahoma as she watched searchers dig through a destroyed elementary school.

"I didn't think with him going to school, that was something that I would have to be concerned about," Combs said.

She said her son's preschool has a safe room, but she worries about how ready his future schools will be for a tornado.

Right now, Lawrence schools have emergency plans directing students to the safest spot in the building, but no public school in the city has a FEMA-approved storm shelter.

City commissioner Jeremy Farmer said Lawrence students need more defense against a tornado. He said the city in general needs to act now and learn from Moore's mistakes.

"This community was hit in 1999. Now it's 2013, and it was hit again, and you hear city officials from Moore, Oklahoma, banging themselves on the head saying, 'We should have done something,'" Farmer said.

The commissioner has directed the city's planning staff to study building codes for the city and how the structures could stand up to a tornado.

Farmer is also forming a task force to find ways to make schools safer, get money for storm shelters and help the most vulnerable people stay safe in a storm. He believes no idea is too radical.

"Shame on us if we see this as an issue, and we wait until something happens," Farmer said.

A Lawrence Public Schools spokesperson said while the district does not have any FEMA-approved shelters right now, future construction and renovation projects will require facilities to meet FEMA standards.

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