Saturday, March 03, 2007

School second guessed over tornado decision

I hate this kind of second guessing.

Administrators at a high school where eight students died in a tornado were warned about severe weather nearly three hours before the twister struck, raising questions Friday about whether classes should have been dismissed earlier.

Residents of the neighborhood surrounding Enterprise High School said they heard warning sirens long before the tornado slammed into the building, crushing the victims in an avalanche of concrete and metal.

"It came real fast, but they had plenty of time to get those kids out because sirens were going off all morning," said Pearl Green, whose 15-year-old niece attends the school and was hit in the head by a flying brick.

But school officials said they had no chance to evacuate earlier because of the approaching severe weather. And others said the carnage would have been greater if students had been outside or on the road when the storm hit.

The second guessers would have a case in one scenario and one scenario only: If someone had told them the exact time a tornado would hit and that it would bear directly down on the school. Otherwise, they made the right call. First, in a situation with ongoing severe weather, you can't risk sending kids home. How do you know exactly when those sirens will go off again and a tornado will drop from the clouds? Second, in 99% of all situations, that high school is going to be a very safe place for the kids as high schools are typically very sturdy buildings which will hold up well to anything but direct hits. Third, if you release the kids early, can you rely on them going home and taking shelter? If winter cancellations here in Wisconsin are any indicator, you can't. What would the outrage have been if they'd released the kids early and then 15 of them died at a mall that was hit by a tornado? A situation like the one the administrators faced is fluid and filled with imperfect information about potential future events. Given all the things they had to weigh in their decision, including advise from emergency management officials to hold the kids, I think they made the right decision. The loss of life and the injuries are sad, but it could have been a lot worse.

No comments: