Baldwin City stands by shelter decision, looks to schedule storm preparedness meeting
While maintaining their position that the city can’t be involved in community storm shelter with the Baldwin school district, Baldwin City Council members Monday called for a public meeting this spring on severe weather preparedness.
Discussion of the shelter issue at Monday’s council meeting was limited to Councilwoman Bonnie Plumberg’s report on the Community Development Committee she chairs.
The council’s brief discussion Monday was in contrast to two weeks earlier when the topic dominated the council meeting. That meeting came six days after an estimated 60 Baldwin City residents sought shelter at the school district’s new Performing Arts Center during a tornado warning only to find it the building locked.
At the earlier meeting, Mayor Ken Wagner (who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting) and City Administrator Chris Lowe apologized for the lack of communication that had so many residents heading to the Performing Arts Center after it had been decided the city couldn’t be a partner in offering it as a shelter.
Since January, Wagner and Lowe have been calling for the city to take steps to education the public on severe weather awareness and preparation. Council members agreed Monday the public meeting the Community Development Committee proposed would help address that need.
Councilman Shane Starkey, who is a member of the Community Development Committee, said the committee also suggested a emergency management professional attend the public meeting to explain the concerns that led the city to end involvement in a shelter at the Performing Arts Center.
That decision was made after city officials discussed the topic with Douglas County Emergency Management Director Teri Smith.
Wagner and Lowe cited Smith’s comments when two weeks earlier they explained the city’s decision to the four residents attending the council meeting who either went to the Performing Arts Center during the Feb. 28 storm or had family members who did.
The city doesn’t have enough full-time police officers or firefighters on duty to spare one to manage a community shelter during what would be a community emergency, they said. Therefore, the job would fall to a volunteer, and Wagner said it would be difficult to assure that person would be in town or otherwise available during a storm.
Wagner and Lowe explained terms of the Federal Emergency Management Grant that provided 75 percent of the $4.5 million to build the Performing Arts Center as a tornado safe room mandated its doors be locked 10 minutes after a tornado warning was issued and remain secure until the all clear was sounded. Enforcing those rules could put a volunteer in a very difficult position, Wagner said.
A possible volunteer scheduling problem and the mandate to lock the doors 10 minutes after a warning started could put those seeking safety at the Performing Arts Center at greater risk than staying in their homes, Wagner said.
Baldwin USD 348 Paul Dorathy said Monday he remained hopeful talks with the city can find a way the city and district can make a storm shelter available to the community.