PAC available for Baldwin City community tornado shelter but users asked to follow rules
In the three years since a remote-access system was installed, the public hasn’t had the need to use the Baldwin school district’s Performing Arts Center for shelter from an approaching tornado.
“As far as procedures, I don’t believe we’ve ever had to do it,” Superintendent Paul Dorathy said.
The emergency access was established in response to an incident in February 2012, when sirens sounded warning of a tornado spotted on the ground west of town. The tornado did only minor damage to a rural farmstead, but the sirens sent about 60 people to the then-newly opened Baldwin Junior High School Performing Arts Center looking to ride out the storm. The structure had been built, with the help of a FEMA grant, to withstand 250 mph winds.
The shelter seekers found the PAC locked, and that in turn started several months of discussion between the Baldwin school district and city about which one should be responsible for opening the PAC during a tornado warning when school was not in session. Dorathy eventually found a solution that allows one set of doors to the PAC to be unlocked remotely.
The PAC is ready for use as a community tornado shelter this season for the third-straight year, Dorathy said. It is a tornado shelter and not a storm shelter, and will only made accessible during non-school hours when sirens sound alerting residents that Baldwin City is under a tornado warning. However, the superintendent reminded residents to make sure it was their best option.
“When tornado sirens sound, people really need to think about how much time they have and how long it will take them to get to shelter," he said. "The main thing is that if you can’t be there in 10 minutes after a tornado siren sounds, don’t go the Performing Arts Center for shelter.”
When school is in session, the PAC will be accessible to those residents who knock on the western-most double white doors on the building’s north side. They should not try to gain entry at the glass doors between the Baldwin Junior High School gymnasium and the PAC. For the safety and students and staff, the doors will be locked 10 minutes after tornado sirens sound and will remain so until the all clear is given.
Those seeking shelter at the PAC during non-school hours need to enter through the western-most double-steel doors on the same doors. The steal doors will be unlocked remotely when a tornado siren sounds, which should happen even if the power fails. Dorathy said the locking mechanism is on a battery backup that will keep the locks operational for hours.
As a further failsafe, there is a phone number by the doors that will connect those seeking shelter to someone with the code to unlock the doors or, if that code doesn’t work, a combination to a lock box near the doors with a key to the doors, Dorathy said.
Light switches are to the left of the designated door. Again, the PAC has a battery emergency lighting system that should kick in during a power failure, but those seeking shelter are encouraged to bring flashlights, Dorathy said. It is also a good idea to bring cellphones in case it is necessary to call for the lock code and a portable radio to stay attuned to weather conditions, he said.
Neither district nor city personnel will be on hand during non-school hours, and those seeking shelter are asked to be mindful of the rules. Among the things asked of those seeking shelter at the PAC are:
• Park in the parking lot north of the BJHS gym and east of the high school and not in the fire lane next to the shelter.
• Don’t bring pets. Allowing pets would create a liability issue for the district, Dorathy said.
• Don’t bring food or drinks other than bottled water.
• Don’t smoke in the building
• Don’t bring firearms.
• Stay calm and stay away from outside doors.
• Pick up any trash before leaving.
Video cameras have been installed inside the PAC to record activity during its use as a shelter, but those seeking shelter are also asked to monitor the activity of others, Dorathy said. Any vandalism or theft could jeopardize its continued use as a tornado shelter.