Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma all offer a tornado rebate program that would put cash in your pocket to build a tornado shelter in your own home.
Tennessee Emergency Management Agency Director James Bassham feels strongly that a tornado shelter reimbursement program is not the best use of available disaster prevention money. "Quite frankly we feel like the better bang for your buck is having a shelter in a school or a community where you can get a number of people in there," said Bassham.
Each state gets a certain amount of money based on previous storm damage. Last year TEMA spent almost all of its $17 million dollars on public shelters. Meanwhile Oklahoma officials used $1 million dollars of the $3 million they had to help fund rebates for private in-home shelters. In fact, Oklahoma officials are actually shutting down public shelters. "The encouragement to travel, in my opinion is one of the greatest hazards we increase effectively by encouraging the use of public shelters, said David Barnes Oklahoma County Emergency Management Director. TEMA Director Bassham wasn't concerned about that.
"He didn't care, it seemed like he just didn't care. that people have, a lot of people can benefit from a different plan," Kathy Conley of Spring Hill saw our story last week and is frustrated by TEMA. "I think the thing that really shocked me was that Oklahoma had shut this program down and because of all the lives that were lost and that it wasn't effective," said Conley.
One of TEMA's latest public shelters at Austin Pea State University cost $1.5 million dollars! That much money would have helped fund nearly 750 private shelters.
After our story first aired, a petition going around the state urging officials to bring a shelter rebate program to Tennessee exploded, up nearly 200 signatures. We took your concerns to State Senator Dolores Gresham. She saw the petition and is listening. "It has been my number one lesson learning here in the legislature, is that grass roots is what gets it done," said Senator Gresham. She plans to propose a bill in the next general assembly to try to get action.
A relief for people like Kathy Conley. "There isn't time to go to a public shelter and sometimes all you have is just a few minutes just to get to your closet," said Conley.
We took your concerns to TEMA, they sent us this statement:
"Based on TEMAs risk analysis and the input we have received over many years from local emergency management officials in Tennessee counties, the agency feels the best use of disaster mitigation funding is to put it toward building shelters in schools to protect children and to focus on community emergency shelter options. We certainly appreciate the input of Tennessee citizens on public safety, and are we glad so many are focused on preparedness as an individual responsibility. Our focus remains on saving lives in emergencies and helping communities recover after disasters."
Monday, April 30 2012, 11:14 PM CDT
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