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Alabama legislature takes up bill to identify and designate safer places during severe weather

Updated: Mar. 24, 2021 at 8:28 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - The Alabama legislature is taking up a bill that would adopt guidelines for designating safer place shelters during severe weather.

Jefferson County EMA Director Jim Coker said there can never be enough storm shelters in the state of Alabama, as severe weather can pop up at any time of the year.

He said that’s why lawmakers want more buildings, that aren’t necessarily storm shelters, to be identified as safer places for people to go during severe weather.

If passed, Senate Bill 43 will require state emergency management agencies and county commissions to develop uniform guidelines for safer places, so people will have more options when seeking shelter during severe weather.

“There’s simply no way to ever provide enough community safe rooms for everybody in Alabama. That would be an undertaking that nobody could financially afford,” Coker said.

Which is why the ‘Safer Places’ bill seeks to identify other facilities outside of tornado shelters, like churches, government facilities, and office buildings, that could safely house people during a storm.

The bill was introduced during the last legislative session, but COVID sent everyone home.

“The legislature has taken it up again this year because it’s that important they recognize the need for people to have a safe place to go and this is one way to do that,” Coker said.

Coker said the bill could also ease the stress of traveling long distances to find a tornado shelter when seconds count.

“And once they’re identified, then they can be placed on a map. One example is on our website, the EMA website, we’ve got the community storm shelters in Jefferson County listed there. Anybody can go to the website and figure out, ‘What’s the closest shelter to me?’ So, this would be another extension of that,” Coker explained.

Coker said the bill would also ease the liability burden on those who open their facilities to those seeking shelter.

He said lawmakers are already halfway through the session, and he’s hopeful the bill will pass soon.

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