Devastation in Oklahoma: School safety concerns - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Devastation in Oklahoma: School safety concerns

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

The small town of Moore, OK is a landscape of flattened homes and debris after being hit by an EF-5 tornado, with winds of at least 200 miles an hour.

The search for the dead and for survivors is nearly complete. The number of dead stands at 24, including at least nine children. Hundreds of people were injured.

Among the most horrifying scenes in the vast destruction were two elementary schools, which took direct hits from the twister - taking some of the youngest lives in this tragedy, but sparing others. 

The storm ripped off the roof and knocked down walls, as students and teachers huddled in hallways and bathrooms.  

Tornado watches and warnings are common in Virginia -- and the images from Oklahoma are a brutal reminder of the need to be prepared. 

When bad weather rolls in, parents want to make sure their children are out of harm's way. Laveena Issa is a mother and a kindergarten teacher at New Deliverance Christian Academy.  

"It's the reason why my son is here," said Issa. "It's because I know that they do have a safety plan." 

During weather emergencies students will file into this hallway or stairwell in the safest part of the building.  

When that alarm goes off, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management urges all schools - including new deliverance - to practice a tornado drill each march to prepare for disasters that could approach unexpectedly.

 "We make sure they go through the process of what they would do if a tornado happened - take shelter, go to the locations where they are supposed to in their facilities and make sure they would for a real tornado warning," Public Affairs Director, Bob Spieldenner.

Teams at the Emergency Operations Center in chesterfield practiced responding to a mock earthquake. They answered calls and sent out mutual aid to victims - similar to what they'd do in any disaster. This comes during a sobering time for parents like Issa - who thinks of her babies every time she sees these images on her screen.  

"It definitely gets my nerves because you send your child to school thinking they'll be safe," said Issa. "You don't think of what mother will bring to us but all you can hope and pray for is they'll be okay." 

I checked with school systems in the Richmond-Metro area. Even though VDEM requires one tornado drill a year, many schools practice several just to be safe.  

It's just as important to be prepared at home -- to have a plan "before" severe weather threatens.

The Virginia Department of Emergency Management offers a number of ways to make sure people are safe: http://www.vaemergency.gov/readyvirginia/stayinformed

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