For quick reference, scroll down to our list of locations, which includes Google Maps links.

Not everyone has a basement or storm shelter where they live. Thanks to Springfield Public Schools, there are still safe places to go.

SPS will open several tornado safe rooms to the public during certain severe weather events. These shelters are designed to withstand an F5 tornado, equal to the twister that devastated Joplin in 2011.

“The biggest thing is they’ll withstand an EF-5 tornado and keep people safe,” said Dr. Travis Shaw, executive director of operations for SPS. “We’re building ours to the ICC 500 Code. It’s a building code that requires a lot of things. They have to be able to withstand up to 250 mph winds and all the doors and any ventilation have to be rated for that as well. There have to be separate generators from the facility, there have to be a certain number of restrooms based on occupancy.”

There are 15 Springfield schools with tornado safe rooms. Of those 15, 13 are available for use by community members. If you don’t have time to reach one, we interviewed experts to find out the safest places to shelter inside a home with no basement.

13 public tornado shelters available to residents within 1/2 mile area

Other public tornado shelters

Greene County Office of Emergency Management also lists two other public storm shelters, both located on university campuses.

  • Drury University has a tornado safe room at the O’Reilly Family Event Center, located at 935 North Summit Ave.
  • Missouri State also has one, located next door to Sunvilla Tower at 827 East Elm St.

“This is not just intended for our students and staff,” Shaw said. “If they’re built to the capacity that allows that, then we want the community to be able to access those as well. Some of them are only available outside of school hours because of their size. Others would be available 24/7 because of their size.”

Boyd Elementary School (833 East Division St.), Fulbright Early Childhood Center (3373 West Battlefield Rd.) and Williams Elementary School (2205 West Kearney St.) have safe rooms to provide protection for the students and staff during tornados and extreme high wind events during school hours. The public is able to use those shelters outside of school hours.

These rooms are available to residents in the community that live within what SPS refers to as the “Tornado Protection Zone.” The TPZ is based on the estimated time necessary to reach the safe room after a warning has been given and the maximum capacity of the safe room, including the student body and staff.

“The tornado protection zone is essentially a half-mile radius around the site,” Shaw said. “That’s what we consider the are in which people could get to the shelter in a timely matter during a tornado warning before the doors are then locked. They don’t stay unlocked indefinitely because we want to ensure the people in the building are safe.”

When should you go to a public tornado shelter, and what happens once you get there?

Public tornado shelters in Springfield
Public tornado shelter safe room at Jeffries Elementary School in Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Once a tornado watch is issued for Greene County, SPS personnel will prepare the safe room. When a tornado warning is issued, and tornado sirens are activated by the Greene County Emergency Management Director or the County’s 911 Director, the safe room will be opened. The doors to the tornado safe room will stay open for 10 minutes after the warning is issued, or close sooner if tornadic activity is observed in the area.

“We have blue flashing lights that are on each of these facilities, and there’s signage on each of the facilities, and that’s where they enter the building,” Shaw said. “We try to put them in the most visible location, but also the closest location to where they’ll access the gym if they’re not going through an exterior door.”

The weather will continue to be monitored and the room will remain open until severe weather has ended and the National Weather Service has canceled the watches and warnings, or they have expired. Once the all-clear is given, everyone may leave the facility.

“There’s a 10-minute timeline during which they stay open,” Shaw said. “After 10 minutes, those doors lock and those that are within the facility would be able to stay safe and not worry about somebody entering in the event the tornado was actually coming through that space. That’s where, within that 10-minute timeframe, anybody within a half-mile would hopefully be able to get to that space.”

If you or someone in your household has special needs, contact the SPS General Service Center, at 1458 East Chestnut Expressway. The safe room sites will accommodate to the best of their ability.

Aid animals may be brought to the facilities as long as they are on a leash and kept under control by the owner at all times. Aid animal needs — like water, food and cleaning supplies — must be provided by the owner and the owner is responsible for the actions of the aid animal. Companion animals and other house pets are not allowed in the safe room due to space limitations.

Jeff Kessinger

Jeff Kessinger is the Reader Engagement Editor for the Springfield Daily Citizen, and the voice of its daily newsletter SGF A.M. He covered sports in southwest Missouri for the better part of 20 years, from young athletes to the pros. The Springfield native and Missouri State University alumnus is thrilled to be doing journalism in the Queen City, helping connect the community with important information. He and wife Jamie daily try to keep a tent on the circus that is a blended family of five kids and three cats. More by Jeff Kessinger