This interactive map shows the results of a public records request by NBC 5 Investigates in Chicago. We asked more than 400 public school districts in the greater Chicago area if they have any schools with tornado shelters that meet the updated requirements of the International Code Council and the National Storm Shelter Association.
We contacted a total of 401 public school districts. A total of 137 districts did not reply; or asked for more time to gather records; or denied NBC 5 Investigates’ request for documents – most always citing security concerns if the district’s floor plans and emergency procedures were to be made public.
But 264 local school districts did respond to NBC 5 Investigates. Those districts oversee a total of 1,728 school buildings, but only 16 of them – fewer than one in one hundred – have a tornado shelter that meets the requirements of the ICC and NSSA.
That does not mean the other districts are negligent – not at all: Illinois state law says that any new public school building-- built or more than 50 percent remodelled after January of 2015 -- must have a tornado shelter that meets these specifications. Most schools are therefore not required to, because they were built before 2015. (For those schools and districts that might want to retrofit their buildings, the cost can be prohibitive.)
However, all Chicago-area public schools are required to have extensive safety plans, with detailed instructions of where schoolchildren in each room should go, if there is a tornado warning. Each district is required to do regular drills throughout the school year for a variety of emergency situations, including tornados. Many schools have “go” bags with first-aid supplies and other equipment, packed and ready in each classroom, and teachers are often required to take attendance once their class reaches its shelter location.
NBC 5 found that -- for the large majority of public schools that do not have ICC-500-certified shelters -- children are most often sent to interior hallways or interior rooms, where they are often required to sit down; face a wall; put their heads down, and put their hands over their heads, until the “all clear” signal is heard.