Archive for Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Baldwin City mayor says FEMA grant details make city role in community shelter at PAC difficult

Those seeking refuge Feb. 28 at Baldwin USD 348's Performing Arts Center found its doors locked. It future of the PAC as a community shelter appears dim because of city concerns about the terms of the FEMA grant that provided the money to make it a safe room for district students and staff during school hours.

Those seeking refuge Feb. 28 at Baldwin USD 348's Performing Arts Center found its doors locked. It future of the PAC as a community shelter appears dim because of city concerns about the terms of the FEMA grant that provided the money to make it a safe room for district students and staff during school hours.

March 6, 2012

When warning sirens sounded the night of Feb. 28, with a tornado on the ground west of the city, Donna Sumner of 225 Baker Street was one of about 60 people who sought shelter at Baldwin school district’s new Performing Arts Center.

But it was locked.

“I have nowhere else to go,” she told the Baldwin City Council on Monday night. “I live in a mobile home. They say that’s the most dangerous place to be in a tornado. Where are people like us supposed to go?”

In interviews before Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Ken Wagner and Ande Parks, school board president, agreed a repeat of the Feb. 28 experience was unacceptable.

Wagner, however, said problems of enforcement, liability and logistics forced the city to withdraw from any role in the operation of a shelter at the Performing Arts Center. A complicating factor was the school district’s grant agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that mandated how that building must be managed during a storm.

As explained to city officials by Douglas County Emergency Management Director Teri Smith, the FEMA agreement was to provide a safe room for the students and staff of the junior high and high schools while school was in session — but not a community shelter, Wagner said.

The FEMA agreement mandates the shelter’s doors be locked 10 minutes after a tornado warning is issued for Baldwin City. It also requires the shelter remain locked and no one leave, until a warning was lifted.

It’s unrealistic to think city police or the fire chief could handle that in an emergency, Wagner said. And volunteer firefighters might not be available.

“We’re acting on the advice of an emergency management professional,” Wagner said. “We could be putting people at greater risk by encouraging them to leave the relative safety of their homes.”

That volunteer also would be required to lock the doors as FEMA dictates, perhaps with people still showing up to seek shelter or with those inside demanding to leave before an all-clear was issued, Wagner said.

Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe explained Monday that if the city opens the shelter during non-school hours, it would assume liability for the safety of people inside.

The liability issue was the reason the school district could not offer a community shelter, Parks said. The district’s lawyer and the Kansas Association of School Board’s said the district’s insurance would not cover any liability for running a community shelter because it’s outside the purview the school district’s mission, he said.

Public safety is, however, one of city government’s top priorities, Parks said.

Parks conceded the FEMA contract could prevent use of the arts center as a community shelter. But he said the city and district could make alternatives available, such as the old junior high and locker rooms at the junior high and high school gymnasium, as they had in the past.

“I think the city and the district should collaborate closely to serve the community, as should all our public entities,” Parks said.

Wagner said officials from both parties met once to discuss the issue and would again. He called for the city and the district to work together to educate the public on the need to develop storm plans that would get people to safety in their neighborhoods. He also suggested the city budget include funds to provide 100 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radios free to the public. The mayor said the city couldn’t force the owners of the two mobile home parks to build shelters but also would make that request.

Sumner urged him to act quickly.

“They say it’s going to be an active year,” she said.


Goldie 6 years, 3 months ago

Two things are very obvious in this article.

1) Both sides ( the City and School Dist. ) have numerous excuses as to why nothing is being done.

2) A great deal of nothing is being done.


SabrinaFair 6 years, 3 months ago

Backpedaling. They sure have changed their tune.

And somebody better tell City Hall to update their facebook page.

When Mr. Dorathy was boasting all over the place about how many people the center could keep safe from a tornado, that might have been the time to add, "not that we'll let anyone in there unless those 1,800 just happen to be there anyway during school hours...and a tornado just happens to strike right then." But he didn't think of saying that. That wouldn't have sounded so grand in a press release.

Between the city and the school leaders, everyone in this town was led to think they could use the center in times of dire need. For those living in trailers or without shelters, dire need is when those sirens are blowing and their children are looking to them to keep them safe.

Do you mean to tell me that covering your asses (let's call "liability issues" what it really is, shall we, Mr. Wagner?) is more important than designating someone to be on hand to save lives if it comes down to that?

If a tornado had ripped through here on the night of the 28th, would you, Mr. Wagner, and you, Mr. Dorathy, and all the rest of you henny pennies "in charge" around here have helped collect the scattered body parts as you heaved a sigh of relief that at least the city wouldn't get sued?

Come on here and answer that question. I'm waiting.


woofwoof 6 years, 3 months ago

The City has an underground Civil Defense shelter behind the old power plant downtown.

Doesn't anyone know about or use it?


dentallover 6 years, 3 months ago

well...sabrinaFair Just so you know...Mr. Dorathy thinks that this shelter is very cool and would really like for people to be able to use it..why do you think it was built?...but since the city won't corporate and take there fair share of the deal..that makes it a little hard doesn't it?


SabrinaFair 6 years, 3 months ago

Your defense of Mr Dorathy ignores several factors. And I didn't single him out for blame--there's a lot of that to go around.

When did they know (Dorathy, Wagner, the school board, the city council) that people would get locked out of the shelter if they showed up? They should have made the same fanfare that they made when they were bragging about the building's safety features. After setting the town up to think the shelter was "open for business" during storms, how could they possibly think they shouldn't correct that opinion when they KNEW that no one was going to unlock the building during the next storm?

As soon as they knew there was a problem with FEMA regulations, or whatever the excuse, ANY of them could have called news outlets and made sure the public knew their lives would be in danger if they fled to the shelter for a tornado warning. NONE of them did so.

Not one person who knew bothered to call the newspapers or send a bulletin to local residents, or post this information ANYWHERE. Not Dorathy, not Wagner, no one in the know bothered to let people know.

Mr D can continue to think the so-called shelter is "very cool" and he can "like for people to be able to use it" all he wants--but when he knew there was a problem with that, he should have made some noise about it. It is an ethical failure that he didn't.

Was he waiting for Wagner to do it? Was Wagner waiting for him? Or did they just bury their heads in the sand and think "it will never happen here"? What a pair of schmucks. I have a feeling you wouldn't be defending any of them if people had been killed the other night. I also have a feeling that you don't know any of those traumatized people.


hyperinflate 6 years, 3 months ago

Uh, just for the record there is a person with the title of City Administrator who would actually be responsible for the City's side of things. Not that there isn't probably plenty of crow to be eaten by all parties, but I think Mr. Lowe needs to belly up to the table and consume his share.


Bloggerboo 6 years, 3 months ago

Wrongo. There was an article where both Parks, Dorathy, and City Admins were interviewed back in 2011 and it was explicitly stated that there was no way yet to use this building for the community. So, don't spread lies to make your argument.


Bloggerboo 6 years, 3 months ago

That article was at least a month before the oddly-timed February tornado. But, at least it was clear we couldn't yet use the building as a shelter. I will agree communication could've been better since this article, but in no way was anyone invited during a storm, and careful reading points out that we don't yet have an agreement.


Bloggerboo 6 years, 3 months ago

This building was built as a peforming arts center for the school district, first and foremost. The bond issue that paid for it was voted on before anyone was even certain there would be an option from FEMA to make it a storm shelter (for students and staff during school).

Mr. Dorathy may have misunderstood the issues involved with allowing community members in during inclement weather, but it sounds like he was hoping to do the right thing and make that happen. However, if you all would bother to read the article, it is pretty clear FEMA regulations do not allow us to use it in such a fashion without significant work, liability coverage, and/or insurance. Maybe over time the city and the district can reach a deal to cover all these issues, but I think we can safely remove any blame from either the city admins or the district officials.


greyghost 6 years, 3 months ago

Do you agree, or not, that this should be used as a shelter for the people of Baldwin during a tornado warning?


Bloggerboo 6 years, 3 months ago

It would be nice so long as it didn't introduce other problems. I would feel just as bad for someone who left the potential safety of their own home to reach this building, but didn't make it and was hurt on the way there.


SabrinaFair 6 years, 3 months ago

Bloggerboo, they (city and school district alike) openly touted the safety-shelter features of the storm and indicated, more than once, in the newspapers, that it would be used this way. It actually WAS used this way--not during school hours--shortly after it opened. This reinforced public opinion that it was the go-to place during tornado weather.

Gathering from comments these clowns have made after the Feb fiasco, it's obvious that they did learn sometime between that one-time storm use and this February, that they would NOT be able to open the building to the public after school hours.

That is the crux of their culpability. They told people it would be used that way. They learned it couldn't. They FAILED to correct public opinion by telling the townspeople that they had finally read the fine print. That failure put people's lives in danger. It's that simple.

They should have come forward and said "We misinterpreted the rules on this--we're sorry, but the building can't be opened for shelter when school isn't in session." People would have been angry but they would have known to find alternate shelter. Honesty and openness--quaint concepts.


Bloggerboo 6 years, 3 months ago

They said something very similar to that in the article I linked to above. It wasn't as clear as maybe it could have been, but the way I read it, it was not going to be used in that way anytime in the near future. Article was dated Jan. 26th, I think.


SabrinaFair 6 years, 3 months ago

Thank you for finding and posting that article, Bloggerboo. I did make an effort to find something of that nature before posting here but my google search did not turn up that article. I am all but certain there were other articles (previously) where they emphasized the "community shelter" aspect of the building as a carrot on a stick for the voters--but I couldn't turn up those articles either. Maybe you could help with that, as you seem to be a good researcher.

The article you found does lessen their culpability somewhat and I'm relieved that they did say something about it publicly--but I still think they had an obligation to make more noise about it!

Obviously, I wasn't the only one who didn't see that one article in January. My missing it just led to a little (more) anger toward all those who should have alerted the community. But for others, missing it led to them putting their families in great danger out in the open, trusting that all the previous hype over the building was true.

Anyway--thanks again for bringing the article to light. It does mitigate things a little for me--but my opinion really is meaningless. If those families had died in the storm because they had missed the ONE article that refuted a few YEARS' worth of fanfare over the building's use, it would have a senseless and avoidable loss!


Stacy Napier 6 years, 3 months ago

I'll bet they will all feel good when a family with three children die like Indiana when they can't get in this.

What a joke. Now we all are the laughing stock of KC metro.


NanCrisp 6 years, 3 months ago

Rule #1 when accepting money from federal agencies (i.e. FEMA): Read the fine print. These grants always come with very specific stipulations and regulations. There is no "free lunch." Professionals in city government, school districts, etc., who regularly deal with these types of grant submissions understand this.


BaldwinDad 6 years, 3 months ago

Another example of a fundamental failure of Federal, Local and School Govt....not sure why anyone believes half of what any of these talking heads say.


Torch 6 years, 3 months ago

Somewhat shocked that anyone is surprised by this.

But remember, the Cooper Performing Arts Center is for the kids! Since they and their grandchildren will be paying for it they may as well get exclusive access!


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