Tulsa Daycare Center Invests In Safe Room

Wednesday, June 5th 2013, 5:49 pm
By: News On 6

The recent tragedy in Moore has many people talking about the need for storm shelters in schools, but children in daycares are also vulnerable.

Although daycares are required to license with DHS, the state doesn't mandate them to have storm shelters or even tornado drills.

So a daycare center in Tulsa is using its own money to keep kids safe.

DHS says they can only think of three daycares around Tulsa that currently have a safe room, and like with schools, the primary reason is the cost.

It's the incredible survival stories like that of some daycare workers in Moore, who huddled together with more than 20 kids in a tiny bathroom, that have prompted many to push for mandatory safe rooms in daycares and schools.

5/22/2013 Related Story: Moore Daycare Workers Recount Covering Children During Powerful Twister

Here in Tulsa, Sue Hilim, with Happy Hearts Academy of Early Learning, wasn't about to take that chance.

"EF-1 tornado touched down at the Tulsa airport, and we actually brought the children down here," Hilim said. "I don't even think we had had a tornado drill prior to that."

Hilim has been in charge of this daycare for more than 10 years, but has lived in "tornado alley" most of her life. She and her husband had their home destroyed by a twister, and drew from their experience in a shelter when installing this one.

"By the time we got out of the cellar, we were knee-deep in water, and going down it was dark and dank, and I didn't enjoy being down there," Hilim said.

The shelter at Happy Hearts is far from dark and damp. There's ventilation, a phone for emergencies, it's well lit, and there is eight-inch, reinforced concrete all the way around. And the door is bulletproof.

"It wasn't even a second thought, as far as cost," Hilim said.

The cost is why the state is encouraging shelters, but not requiring them in all schools and daycare centers.

Governor Mary Fallin estimated it would require more than $2 billion, or a third of the state's budget.

Hilim purchased hers out of pocket, and said the expense is worth the safety that comes with it.

"It's a great deal of peace of mind, it really is," she said.

Hilim said her above ground safe room is rated to withstand and EF-5 tornado, and it cost roughly $15,000.

She says it can hold up to 75 kids, and that they practice tornado drills at least four times a year.