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Wetumka School Celebrates Safe Room Groundbreaking

WETUMKA, OK -- Wetumka School will take an important step forward in severe weather preparedness with the groundbreaking for its new Safe Room tomorrow. The event will be held at 2 p.m. at Wetumka School, 410 E. Benson Street.

Oklahoma Sen. Dick Wilkerson (D-Atwood) and Rep. Dale Turner (D-Holdenville) are expected to join Wetumka School Superintendent Steve Haynes and other local officials for the celebration.

The project represents a partnership between local, state and federal officials. The 4,000 square foot Safe Room will be built with the aid of the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which assists states and local governments in implementing long-term hazard mitigation measures. The program is funded through major disaster declarations.

“Every time we have a presidentially-declared disaster in Oklahoma, a special fund is set aside to help pay for projects designed to prevent and/or at least limit the effects of future disasters,” explained Albert Ashwood, director, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (ODEM). Since 2000 alone, Oklahoma has experienced six presidentially-declared disasters.

Although the grants are federally funded, the program is administered by ODEM. In addition to Safe Rooms, the grants have been used to fund weather radios, reverse 911 systems, the ODEM Safe School Program, development of local natural hazard mitigation plans and the acquisition of properties that repeatedly flood.

“This is an important step in keeping Oklahoma children safe from severe weather,” said Ashwood. “We hope one day every school in the state will have a Safe Room.”

An advantage of large Safe Rooms is the opportunity for them to serve multiple functions; otherwise they often end up as storage space. While not being used as an active storm shelter, the new Safe Room will act as the school library. Stackable chairs and folding tables make it easy for teachers or students to clear the room during an emergency.

“We know the Safe Room will succeed as a storm shelter, but we’re very excited about having a new library as well,” said Haynes.

Construction costs for the facility total almost $400,000. The grant covers $300,000 and the remainder will be paid locally. Wetumka School applied for the grant in December 2002 and was approved six months later. The school is one of more than 100 across the state that has applied for similar grants.

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