Tornado Prompts Norman Schools To Install GPS Radios

Thursday, April 26th 2012, 10:21 pm
By: News 9

The Norman Public School District is taking steps to keep students safe during severe weather. These steps are being taken after about 70 buses were dropping off kids as a tornado tore through the city on April 13.

The district will be using technology similar to the kind used to power car navigation systems. Soon, school buses in Norman will have GPS radios to steer clear of twisters.

School leaders in Norman are happy there were no injuries in the recent tornado, and they want to keep it that way. So, after the April 13 tornado, the district began thinking of new ways to keep students safe.

4/26/2012 Related Story: Norman School District Examines Communications Following Tornado

Sixty-eight buses were on the streets when the twister caused damage to the city. Norman High School sophomore Liz Olsen remembers the storm well.

"It was really scary because the radio was going off saying if you were in Norman, you needed to get under ground," Olsen said.

School officials say the unexpected progression of the storm made things challenging.

"It was very, very fast," district spokesperson Shelly Hickman said.

Longfellow Middle School was right in the path of the storm. Students were released from the school as usual.

"All signs were that it was safe to be able to release our students," Hickman said.

But, 24 minutes after the release, the twister hit. The district says communication with buses was iffy.

"One girl was near the [bus] door and the door was starting to open," Olsen said. "The wind was pulling her out of the door. She said that was really scary"

The Norman School District is spending $250,000 to install GPS radios in each of the district's 80 school buses.

"We'll know exactly where every single one of the buses in our fleet are at any given time," Hickman said.

There will now be no set rule for buses to return to school or stay in place. With GPS radios, drivers can be directed to go anywhere they need to keep kids safe.

Norman School District plans to share its GPS radio experience with other school districts in Oklahoma. The district plans to install the radios in the coming weeks.