Mark Scouten

With severe weather season upon us, more schools across the state are using federal grants to create safe rooms where children can take shelter during dangerous storms.

Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management director Mark Scouten says when Iowa receives disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, it includes bonus funds to prevent damage and loss of life from future storms.

“Whatever the amount is, an additional 20 percent is paid to the state to be use for mitigation purposes,” Scouten says. “We have used a lot of that money for saferoom creation throughout the state.”

Since 1992, FEMA has paid for 72 safe room projects across Iowa, including $42 million for schools. Twenty more schools are waiting in line for FEMA grants for projects worth another $31 million.

“We have stacked projects right now waiting for more hazard mitigation dollars and a number of schools are seeking to do just that: add safe rooms to their facilities,” Scouten says.

Interest in “safe room” shelters grew after a 2013 tornado hit an elementary school in Moore, Oklahoma. Seven children were killed.

(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Joyce Russell)