Storm Shelters Close As Tornado Season Arrives

Friday, March 23rd 2012, 11:05 pm
By: News 9

Just as storm season arrives in Oklahoma, long-time tornado shelters are shutting down leaving hundreds of people in Shawnee searching to find new public shelters.

The combined emergency management agency of Potawatomie County and Shawnee says the shelters are closing because the shelters do not meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That reason is not sitting well with people is Shawnee who say the last thing their county and city should do is close down any shelter, whether those shelters meet the requirements or not.

"We want to provide everything that we can do, but we do have to meet the law," emergency management director Don Lynch said.

Lynch says the three shelters do not meet the accessibility requirements under ADA. So, Shawnee City Hall, fire station number 3 and Sequoia Elementary School will no longer be used as shelters. Those three shelters can hold 275 people total.

"I think it's wrong," Shawnee resident Charles Deere said.

Shawnee residents say it should not matter if there is a ramp or not. Most say closing down shelters is the wrong way to go.

"Most people will help out an old person it they're in a wheel chair," Deere said. "They'll help them out."

Disabled Shawnee resident Steven Helfenbein supports shelters that allow for easier access, but at the same time, he doesn't think any shelter should be closed.

"We can't get around quick enough to get out of the house," Helfenbein said. "As it stands now, they need more [shelters]."

Lynch says the city and county are currently looking for new public shelters that meet ADA requirements. Until then, keeping the old shelters open means the county and city will miss out on federal cash.

"That is something that jeopardizes grant funding and other funding sources to us," Lynch said. "We have to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act."

The three shelters being closed have been in the city for more than a decade. The closings will now leave Shawnee with just one public shelter than can hold up to 100 people.

The city says the ADA does not require Shawnee to take any action that would "fundamentally alter the nature of its programs or services."

The shelter that will remain open is at Boy Scout Park, located at Main and Pesotum Streets in Shawnee.