New Ashland storm shelter registry to help first responders find survivors

Wednesday, August 13, 2014 | 6:17 p.m. CDT; updated 6:52 a.m. CDT, Thursday, August 14, 2014

COLUMBIA — When the next big storm hits mid-Missouri and Ashland residents are forced to seek shelter, they can rest a little easier knowing they can later be found.

Ashland homeowners are now able to list their storm shelters with the city's voluntary storm shelter registry.

The goal of the registry is to allow first responders to have easy access to information about where shelter entrances are located, Ashland Mayor Gene Rhorer said. In the event of a storm or tornado, emergency crews will be able to access the registry, locate the shelters and make sure no one is trapped.

Although the registry project was started just a few months ago, watching the tornado damage done to Joplin in 2011 was a part of the inspiration for the shelter registry, Rhorer said.

"Joplin really opened our eyes," he said. "People down there really were getting trapped."

"We had a number of people who were down in their shelters or basements and their house collapsed around them," said Keith Stammer, director of the Joplin-Jasper County Emergency Management Agency.

After the tornado that struck Joplin on May 22, 2011, it took emergency crews two days to dig out everyone stuck in their shelters. Joplin created a storm shelter registry right after the tornado, Stammer said.

More and more Ashland residents are building shelters onto their homes, and someone needs to make sure people don't get trapped, Rhorer said.

Shelter registries are becoming increasingly common state and nationwide. Several southern Missouri cities, including Lebanon, have already implemented them. Ashland's shelter registry is the first in Boone County.

The Ashland registry is 100 percent voluntary, and the information will never be made public, Rhorer said. Only first responders will be able to access the information in the event of an emergency.

Under the Rhorer's instruction, city staff built the registry using Google Docs and Google Maps, services that do not cost taxpayers anything. The form to register can be found on the city's website, Homeowners can fill in their address, the type of shelter and the location of the shelter's entrance in relation to the house.

So far, public reception has been enthusiastic. Rhorer has presented the idea at several of Ashland's Board of Alderman meetings leading up to Tuesday's launch.

"People wanted to sign up before we even got it launched," he said.

Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.

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