Storm shelters bring safety to Camp Naish
Boy Scouts at Theodore Naish Scout Reservation in Bonner Springs have had an extra measure of safety this summer not found at any other Scout camp in the country.
This camping season, the nearly 15,000 Scouts and leaders who attend summer camp are making use of 11 FEMA Severe Storm Shelters. Officials with the Boy Scouts Heart of America Council say the shelters are the first of their kind to be constructed in a Scout camp.
“As far as we know, across the country, we are the first ones who have done this,” said Randy Kidder, development director for the Heart of America Council.
The shelters are designed to protect campers in severe weather situations, including category 5 tornados. Built into the hillsides, they include restroom facilities, emergency power and communications features that are operational even during mass power outages.
Previously, and at other Scout camps, when severe weather came into the area, Scouts would be directed to the dining hall. This process took a lot of time, especially at night. But now, Scouts are within minutes of secure shelters.
Kidder said the council decided something more needed to be done to protect Scouts in severe weather events three years ago, when a tornado hit a Scout camp in Iowa.
“That really kind of heightened the awareness of hey, this can happen, and we need to have a good, solid structure in place,” he said.
The council considered a number of options, first placing some cement culverts at Naish as a pilot program. But the culverts filled with mud and debris too easily.
Kidder said because of the council’s relationship with Wyandotte County Emergency Services, it soon learned federal grants were available that could help build shelters. Working with the county, as well as with the city of Bonner Springs, the council applied for the grants, which covered 90 percent of the cost, and determined how the shelters might be hooked into the city’s sewer and electrical systems.
The first “test” shelter was built in the spring of 2010, and last fall, after the camporee celebrating the 100th anniversary of Scouting, construction began on 10 additional structures. Ten 24- by 36-foot shelters are at individual campsites, with a larger 36- by 54-foot shelter that serves the Cub World area of the camp.
The camping season began the second week of June and ends Saturday, and the shelters have already been used in five severe weather situations.
Cortland Bolles, program director at Naish, said Scouts go through a severe weather drill shortly after they first reach the camp to become familiar with the shelters. The camp is notified by a weather watcher whenever a storm is within five to 10 hours of the Kansas City area.
“Usually, by the time something starts to hit Topeka, we are mobilizing our staff,” Bolles said.
Once the storm is an hour away, the campers are put on alert, and then, once camp staff members are confident a storm will hit the camp in 15 to 30 minutes, they start carrying out storm procedures.
“Usually we can get the campers in the shelters a few minutes before the storm hits,” Bolles said. “Sometimes, it works perfectly, and sometimes, like last week, the storm dies out when it hits the county line. But I’d rather have it, use it and not need it than not have it and need it.”
The Heart of America Council made sure the shelters would have uses even beyond their main purpose, however; the second phase of the project is to construct a leader’s pavilion on the top of each shelter.
“So the top will be kind of the center of camp life, and one of the things the kids really like is there’s now flush toilets,” Kidder said.
The toilets will eventually replace the pit latrines that Scouts have used until now, which must be redug every year.
While all shelters have a generator, nine have yet to be hooked into the city power lines. The camp also will eventually add touch screen computers to each shelter, which will allow Scout leaders to take a roll call once Scouts are safely inside and send that information to camp headquarters.
Kidder said with the success of the Naish shelters, the council is working to get shelters built at its other camp, the 4,200-acre H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation in Osceola, Mo.