Public storm shelters are at a premium in Pittsburg County.
Only one public storm shelter is available in McAlester, at the old McAlester High School Building. Nine Pittsburg County schools have storm shelters/ safe rooms, and, in one case, cellars on school grounds. Three more school systems have shelters and/or safe rooms in the planning stages.
McAlester Police have the responsibility of making sure the old McAlester High School Building, between Second and Third Streets on Adams Avenue, is available for use as a shelter in the event of tornado activity, said City Manager Pete Stasiak.
"Our police department will open up the old high school," Stasiak said. The building houses the McAlester Public Schools administrative offices.
During past years, the lower portion of City Hall, which housed the McAlester Police Department, has also been available as a storm shelter. However, the McAlester Police Department recently moved from City Hall.
That means City Hall will no longer be available as a shelter.
"Don't go to City Hall," Stasiak said.
No provisions are in place to use the former Carl Albert Federal Building, where the police department, is now located, as a shelter, the city manager said.
"They need to go to the old high school," said Stasiak.
Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management Executive Director Hillary Tripp said nine school districts in Pittsburg County have storm shelters, safe rooms or cellars, including:
• Canadian Public Schools.
• Crowder Public Schools.
• Haileyville Public Schools.
• Hartshorne Public Schools.
• Indianola Public Schools.
• Kiowa Public Schools.
• Krebs Public Schools.
• Pittsburg Public Schools.
• Quinton Public Schools.
Some of the school shelters are designated for student and school staff use only. The situation varies from school-to-school.
A storm bunker at Kiowa Public Schools helped keep citizens safe during a tornado emergency two years ago.
Kiowa Public Schools constructed a concrete storm bunker in 2014 that holds about 600 people, and has bathrooms, heat and air conditioning, and 12-inch thick concrete walls.
“All are welcome,” Kiowa Superintendent Rick Pool said.
Pool said KPS students and faculty will be served first, but “we’re not going to turn people away.” If the facility is ever closed in a severe weather emergency, citizens can call the Kiowa Police Dept. at 918-432-5564.
Anyone looking to register for Kiowa’s notification system can text “@Kiowa” to the number 81010.
Hartshorne Public Schools finished construction in 2017 on two monolithic domes that serve as storm shelters.
Voters in Hartshorne approved a $7.7-million school bond issue in November 2015 for the domes that include a library at the elementary school and a state-of-the-art basketball gym and community shelter at the high school.
“That’s why our community supported it,” Hartshorne Public Schools Superintendent Jason Lindley said. “First of all to give our kids a great place to compete, but the other part of that was that we would have storm shelter capabilities and we’re going to continue to honor that."
Lindley said Hartshorne will open its event center to the community during a tornado watch or a severe thunderstorm, with no pets allowed in the facility.
The facility is rated to hold 3,200 people and has been opened to the community about five times for weather emergencies, with nobody showing up, Lindley said.
HPS notifies the public on its Facebook page and notifies the city, which also notifies the public.
McAlester Public Schools and Tannehill Public Schools have storm shelters or safe rooms in the planning stages. Also, Lakewood Christian School is planning on constructing a storm shelter.