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Storm shelters installed at Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind - abc27 WHTM

Storm shelters installed at Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind

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TALLADEGA, Ala. -

An east Alabama school system is spending more than $1.5 million dollars on new buildings it hopes it will never have to use.

The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind received grants totaling more than $1 million from FEMA for three safe rooms.  A crew with a crane is on campus this week to assemble the shelters.

Each is made of four 105,000-pound modules and can shelter about 300 people.  With a maximum of 750 to 800 people on campus at one time, the three safe rooms should shelter everyone.

The workers put a safe room outside the Alabama School for the Blind on Monday, assembled a second shelter Tuesday at the Helen Keller School, and plan to place the third unit Wednesday at the Gentry Technical Facility.

Lynne Hanner, the Institute's director of institutional advancement, said a familiar face inspired this long-term project.

"James Spann scared us into what we have done here with the safe rooms.  Because on April 27 [2011], after all the storms had gone through all day, he issued a warning for Talladega County and specifically said AIDB needs to be in a safe place right now," Hanner said.

"You never want to hear your name called, especially in a tornado warning, but hey let's face it, when James Spann rolls up his sleeves and says AIDB be in a safe place, we were making sure we were in a safe place."

Some of the dorms already have designated shelter areas.  There are alert systems with audio warnings for blind students, and video message boards for deaf students.

However, AIDB president John Mascia said he still felt unsafe on April 27th, 2011.  He was in the Gentry dormitory, next to the site of Tuesday's safe room installation, when he heard Spann's warning about the AIDB campus.

"I looked at the 75 or 80 individuals that we had in the dormitory at the time, who are deaf, blind or deaf-blind, and thought that this could be it," Mascia said.

Fortunately, the storms never made it to campus.  The schools' supervisors meet the next morning and decided to get safe rooms.  It was a long waiting period to receive grants, and the school spent about $400,000, but Mascia said it is worth it.

"You can't put a cost on human life.  We're blessed to be able to serve students here, children and adults.  We feel that we owe it to them and their loved ones to keep them safe," he said.

"I can't think of anything more important than being able to look at a parent or a spouse or a loved one and telling them that we're doing everything we can do to make sure that their loved one is safe while they're here in our care," Mascia said.

The director of safety and security, Mike Hubbard, said this is a big improvement over the current safety plan.  Crews will surround the steel modules with brick walls to match the other buildings on campus.  There are small storm windows with weatherproof glass.  The safe rooms have heating and cooling units, and can withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour. 

"As safe as we can make it.  Never hope to use it, but if we have to, we have it," Hubbard said.

"They're all handicap accessible with restrooms in them if [students] have to be inside for a long time.  There is heating and cooling, and they have radios so [staff] can monitor EMA and emergency services," he said.

AIDB plans to have a ribbon cutting in March before the severe weather season begins.

Mascia and Hanner said they hope James Spann will visit and be part of the celebration.

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