Why Did Ohio County Shelter Stay Locked in Tornado Warning?

Officials are investigating why dozens of campers were left soaked and stranded after the electronic door locks on a $1 million tornado shelter in Delaware County failed to unlock during an actual tornado warning.

by Dean Narciso, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio / June 18, 2019
Shutterstock/Pictureguy

(TNS) — Officials want to know why dozens of campers were left soaked and stranded after the electronic door locks on a $1 million tornado shelter failed to unlock during an actual tornado warning.

The reinforced concrete of the new dome-shaped shelter at Delaware State Park is designed to withstand hurricane-force winds and save lives, but only if you can get inside.

On Saturday night, Stacy Cummings and her three daughters from Huron County were in their camper when the first warning sounded around 10 p.m. They immediately drove about a quarter-mile to the shelter and were greeted with a downpour, wailing sirens and a full parking lot.

Her daughter, Annie, 20, fell face-down running to the door. It was locked.

About 20 people were huddled at the dark entrance wondering why it wasn't open. Annie cut her fingers after jumping to reach a metal latch.

"I was mad," Stacy Cummings said Monday. "I felt like it was a fake sense of security."

The mechanism designed to unlock the doors after receiving a wireless signal sent to the sirens failed to do so, said Sean Miller, Delaware County emergency management director. "This is something that we're taking very seriously ... with the utmost concern."

The Cummings family returned to their campsite only to hear a second warning siren about 15 minutes later. This time, the doors were unlocked manually by a maintenance worker who had to drive from his home in Union County.

Barb Lewis, a Delaware County commissioner, said she was dismayed. "I was like, 'What happened and why?'

"I want to get this fixed right away. We can't let this sort of thing happen again."

The county provided about 10% of the shelter's funding.

Steve Harvey, a district manager with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which owns the shelter facility, said backup systems, including more keys being given to more people, are being discussed.

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso

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