By Debby Woodin
A tentative proposal to keep FEMA storm shelters in the area and to allow some of them to perhaps be moved to local nursing homes and day care centers is getting positive reaction.
Leslie Jones, Joplin’s finance director, got the nod this week from the City Council to put together a proposal for the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reuse of the concrete storm shelters after they are not needed at temporary sites.
There are nearly 100 FEMA-supplied shelters in use at places such as Hope Haven and Officer Jeff Taylor Memorial Mobile Home Park, which currently offer temporary homes for displaced tornado survivors near the Joplin Regional Airport. Other shelters are located at temporary Joplin schools.
Jones said it would save FEMA the cost of dismantling and removing the concrete buildings, which vary in size. Most hold between 20 and 30 people but some hold up to 50.
Combined, they have the potential to house several thousand residents during a storm.
“I think it is absolutely awesome,” said Terri Malcolm. She and her husband, Ray, own Kid’s Korner Day Care at 2602 Wall Ave. It was destroyed on May 22, 2011, and reopened last month.
“We have wondered about it,” she said of the storm shelters being used in Joplin now.
They looked at putting in one when they rebuilt but couldn’t afford one big enough for their operation. They are licensed for 44 children, plus staff.
“We checked into it. Anything that is suitable for a large number of people has a large price tag on it,” she said. “It was just not doable, especially for people who went a year without income. We actually have room for it right behind our building.”
The city also is considering placing some shelters at city sites in Joplin and Duquesne, such as the Joplin Athletic Complex, the airport, senior center and the Joplin Public Library.
Joplin is prohibited by it charter from giving anything to churches or faith-based schools.
The EF-5 twister killed 16 people at the Greenbriar Nursing Home, 2502 S. Moffet Ave.
Officials there could not be reached for comment on Joplin’s plan.
Three people were killed and two were seriously injured in a group home operated by Community Support Services, which Monday was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Joplin First Response Tornado Fund to build shelters at two group homes.
“Because of the loss of life in the tornado that involved a number of people in group and nursing homes, those places might be interested,” Jones told the council during a meeting on Monday.
Amy Frett, administrator of NHC Healthcare of Joplin, 2700 E. 34th St., said the safety of residents is an issue that has been on her mind since the tragedy.
Though she has not talked to other NHC officials about the proposal, she said: “I think it’s a good idea. Not all nursing homes are full of people who are bedbound.”
Given ample time with a good warning, she said they could transfer residents into a shelter if it’s located close to the exits.
“It is something we have been thinking about. With the loss of patients at the nursing home (in the tornado) it really does kind of hit home,” Frett said. “And of course you have all your staff. Protection of staff is important as well as patients.”
That nursing home has 120 beds and usually that many patients.
“We’re always full so it’s a lot of people,” she said, which would require a sizable shelter or more than one shelter, but she added: “The majority of our patients probably could have transferred to safety.”
Jones said that as soon as word got out that there was the possibility of obtaining the shelters, her telephone lit up.
“We got a lot of emails and phone calls,” she said. “So a lot of people are looking at the need for shelters.”
Jones also said there would be a cost involved. A foundation would have to be poured and the shelters would have to be moved. The cost could run several thousand dollars.
There was some discussion about helping recipients of the shelters pay for the moving and installation expenses, but ultimately the city opted to forgo that, said Jones.
Councilman Bill Scearce asked why the city should pay those expenses. He said the city might give them away but require the recipient to pay moving and installation costs.
Councilman Mike Seibert said that if the city accepts the shelter to use at sites such as City Hall, it would have to be decided whether they would be available to employees only or the public. “What happens in the off hours,” he asked, when city offices are closed if they were available for public use.
City Manager Mark Rohr said those questions are valid ones and would require more details to be hashed out and brought back to the council.
FEMA officials declined comment, except to note they have not received a formal proposal yet.
Joplin’s Assistant City Manager Sam Anselm said the FEMA storm shelters being used at temporary housing parks in Joplin cost $35,000 to $38,000 to manufacture, depending on the size. They are not equipped to be connected to electrical power, he said.