More Than 20 Public Tornado Shelters Located In The River Valley

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FORT SMITH (KFSM) – There is a tornado shelter at almost every public school in Fort Smith, providing safe places for thousands of people.

“It’s a real asset to the community. All of them are built to FEMA standards to withstand the toughest tornado,” superintendent Benny Gooden said Tuesday (April 26).

Gooden said there are 23 shelters within the school district; all are above ground, and they are all different sizes.

“They're at all of our elementary schools and all of our junior high schools,” Gooden said, mentioning that applications are pending with FEMA to get tornado shelters at Northside and Southside high schools.

Of the 23 tornado shelters within the Fort Smith Public School district, the shelter at Ramsey Junior High School is one of the larger ones, and it can hold up to 1000 people in the case of an emergency.

“Now that's 1000 people to stand in place during the passage of a storm,” Gooden said. “They’re not intended for long term, go and stay for three days."

Gooden said the other shelters can hold about 800 people if necessary.

Just like the public shelter at Ben Geren Park, Gooden said there is a system to get the doors unlocked for the public.

“When the tornado warning sirens sound, the door automatically unlocks, they're all connected to that system,” he said.

The public shelters require pets be inside an airline approved carrier.

There are also public shelters in Greenwood, located near the public schools (East Hills Middle School/East Pointe Elementary, Westwood Elementary, and in between Greenwood High School and Greenwood Junior High School at 440 Gary Street).

Public shelters are also located at schools in Van Buren, Arkoma, Poteau, Panama, Spiro, Pocola, Spiro, Wister, Howe, Hodgen, and Heavener.