As part of a voluntary program, storm shelters in Crawford County, Ark. are being recorded into a GPS database for first responder use only.

Participants were sought in the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District pilot project using information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Rebates of 50 percent up to $1,000 can be received from FEMA for those who install storm shelters. Arkansas has received $1.25 million a year to reimburse storm shelter owners.

Of about 470 homes to receive postcards from the planning district in search of participation, only four requested to be left off of the database, said Sasha Grist, interim executive director of WAPDD.

“Once we explain it to people and let them know that it’s only for first-responder use, and not something just anyone can go on and find out who has a storm shelter and where it is, people understand,” said Dennis Gilstrap, director of Crawford County Emergency Management.

In the event of a devastating tornado, which often leaves no trace of street signs or reference points, GPS location is the best way to locate a storm shelter that could be covered up or blocked by debris, trapping the occupants.

“Once they are entered we’ll be able to make an overlay map of the storm shelters and backtrack after the storm to make sure they are not trapped,” Gilstrap said.

There were 76 requests in Crawford County for the FEMA storm shelter rebate and about half were not able to get reimbursed last year. Those 34 applicants will be the first to be paid in the next round of rebate money, Gilstrap said.

©2014 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.). Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.