On Thursday, March 1, 2007, severe weather broke out across the deep south. The storm system was forecast the entire week with blizzard conditions for the midwest and tornadic activity in the south.
In Alabama, schools will let school out early or cancel school all together if the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma predicts a very high probability of such tornadic activity and in conjunction with local weather forecasters. It’s similar to a snow day in other states but it’s for storms. They don’t happen very often but when they do, it’s a serious situation.
Unfortunately, one school system in Enterprise, Alabama did not let school out early enough and the high school took a direct hit from an F-4 tornado where 8 students lost their lives. Much of the town itself was destroyed. The debate on what the school system did wrong is raging on both sides. In a sue-happy society, somebody has to be held accountable afterall, right?
The criteria for school closings are at the discretion of each school principal and/or superintendent. Many wonder if there should be a state wide criteria taking that responsibility out of the hands of local schools. The side proposing that feels that the State would know better about weather warnings and potential disaster than local schools. The side against such measures feel as if taking that decision making process out of the hands of the local schools would also leave them out of other decision making processes and probably wouldn’t have saved those 8 children’s lives anyway. If the school system in Enterprise, Alabama were to have let the kids out sooner, those kids would have been at home. If the ariel pictures are any indication, many more lives may have been lost.
Hindsight is always 20/20. Tornado paths are not predictable. The next tornado will not take that same path. Unlike hurricanes that hit the Alabama coast where people can evacuate with suitable warning, it is impossible to predict exactly where or how bad a tornado will be. Technology just isn’t able to do that yet although maybe some day it might.
New ideas should be encouraged to be explored to keep people safe, of course. It seems like when there is a disaster of this magnitude, people want the government involved to fix things, to make rules to keep us safer. For other things, people don’t want the government to tell us anything and they should not be in our business. It’s a hard call to say that the government will be welcome to dictate some aspect of our day to day lives but not others.
Taking the very local decision making process out of the hands of those who know the situation better than a broader government entity takes away confidence in local leaders. Mistakes will happen and perhaps it was a mistake to keep the children in school longer. On the other hand, if they were sent home, many more lives could have been lost. As of this writing, there are no statistics to indicate if the homes destroyed in the tornado were homes that the children lived in.
Many homes, churches, schools and other buildings in Alabama do not have basements. A tornado shelter could be a possible solution. Building tornado shelters would cost school disctricts hundreds of thousands of dollars and residends of any community are not enthusiatic about raising taxes for such endevors even if it does mean saved lives. Instead, debate rages on. A no confidence vote in the local leadership inviting the big government in to take over decision making versus the other side that thinks everything that could have been done under the circumstances was done. All the while, nothing is accomplished.
There will always be a next time. Mother nature is an unpredictable beast even with the best forecasting tools out there. Protecting yourself, your loved ones and your community is what the focus should be on, not debate on who is at fault. Eight children lost their lives. Hard lessons were learned. Don’t let their deaths be fodder for petty finger pointing. Instead, let’s find a way to keep the children safe in the place where we expect them to be safe. Solutions are needed, not arguments. Our children deserve at least that much. The children who died deserve at least that much.