Some residents could find temporary shelter in an Anniston school the next time a tornado strikes or a snowstorm shuts down the city.
During its meeting last week, the Anniston Board of Education approved an agreement with the Calhoun-Cleburne chapter of the American Red Cross, allowing the organization to use up to five schools as potential shelters. Having the schools will mean more disaster relief in areas of the city where Red Cross shelters are currently scarce, Red Cross officials say.
Chris Hill, volunteer for the local chapter of the Red Cross who attended the meeting, said the agreement includes the possible use of Constantine Elementary, 10th Street Elementary, Cobb Elementary, Anniston Middle School and Anniston High School as emergency shelters.
"We want to expand in areas that are weak and don't have enough shelters," Hill said. "For instance, we don't have a shelter near Quintard Avenue, so Anniston High is an obvious candidate."
Hill said the Red Cross has insurance, meaning the school system will not be liable should someone get hurt while one of the schools serves as a shelter. Hill added that people affected by a disaster will not be located at a school while students are there.
"We would make other arrangements," Hill said.
Superintendent Darren Douthitt said he supports anything the school system can do to help the community.
"I consider public schools as partners with everyone in the community," Douthitt said. "The schools doubling as shelters — I think that is something that should happen in every community and I'm happy to confirm that we're able to be good partners."
Joe Jankoski, executive director of the community chapter of the Red Cross, said the agreement marks the first time an Anniston school will double as a Red Cross shelter.
"We're always looking for places where we can potentially serve people affected by disasters," Jankoski said.
Jankoski said the schools will be used if residents need shelter from an impending storm or after their homes are been damaged or destroyed in a disaster. He said that had some of the schools been available earlier this year, they could have served as shelter during the snowstorms that shut much of the city down.
"During the ice storms, we did open a shelter in Heflin and the Oxford Civic Center as a shelter," Jankoski said. "It's all just a matter of having the resources."
Jankoski noted, however, that it would be unlikely that the schools would be used to house people outside the region.
"This is almost 100 percent to assist just our citizens and citizens in the surrounding counties," he said.
Jankoski said the Red Cross would adapt its shelter plan were any of the schools to close due to consolidation. The school board has discussed since last year possibly closing at least one school to save money due to low student enrollment.
"If we ended up using a school that is consolidated or closed, that facility would potentially still be available for use," Jankoski said. "Or we might need to reassess our resources, which we do on an annual basis anyway."
Hill said he has already spoken with all the principals and faculty at the five schools about using the facilities as potential shelters. The next step will be to conduct detailed surveys of each school to see which are best suited to be shelters, Hill said.
"I'll start doing the surveys next month," Hill said. "We'll talk about things like square footage of the schools, what kind of food preparation facilities are available and handicap access."
Once the shelter evaluation process with the five schools is complete, Red Cross will likely take a similar look at Anniston's other two schools, Randolph Park Elementary and Golden Springs Elementary.
"We wanted to see how things go with these five first before we tried the rest," Hill said.