The City of Oxford strives to be an ideal community for those wanting to raise a family, work, retire, operate businesses, play, or shop. In the city, the safety of our residents, visitors, and businesses is and will always continue to be our number one goal. The city will go to great lengths in making sure the community is protected from any threat, whether that is from criminal activity, fire, or severe weather. There is no dollar amount greater than the value of saving one’s life. In the City of Oxford, residents can go to sleep at night knowing that they are protected.
A few months ago, Oxford Mayor Alton Craft and Fire Chief Gary Sparks discussed ways to continually improve the protection of the city’s citizens. According to Mayor Craft, the City has had its fair share of life threatening weather and tornados and saw the need to provide additional safe places for residents.
“Oxford is 21 miles long with several rural areas. The city’s administration, city council, fire and police departments, as well as emergency medical services teamed up with the county and the Calhoun County Commission to find ways to better protect the people in those areas,” Mayor Craft said. “In an effort to increase the safety of our residents in the rural parts of the city, we looked into the possibility of adding FEMA certified storm shelters in strategic locations that are easily accessible by those in need.”
Together with Calhoun County EMA Director, Jonathan Gaddy, Chief Sparks discovered B’Safe, an Oklahoma based company priding themselves in providing the world’s safest, strongest, and most comfortable storm shelters. When speaking to Chief Sparks and learning more about the City’s emphasis on providing equal protection to all of its people, whether living in developed or rural neighborhoods, Tommy Goff, Owner and CEO of B’Safe, offered to provide two shelters–one, capable of holding 48 individuals, was to be purchased by the city for $70,000 while the other, a shelter valued at $59,000 and capable of holding 32 people, was given to the City at no cost in return of marketing material.
On September 27, the storm shelters arrived in Oxford. The larger shelter was installed in Bynum by the EMS sub-station (close to the post office) on a graded base prepared by Calhoun County. The smaller shelter was installed by the fire station in DeArmanville, also on a base prepped by the County.
According to Chief Sparks, the storm shelters are mobile and solar powered with air conditioning and restrooms. They can withstand an Enhanced Fujita (EF) 5 tornado and 250 miles per hour winds.
“It’s going to give the citizens of Oxford in the Bynum, Coldwater, and DeArmanville areas a place to go when dangerous conditions approach,” Chief Sparks said. “It gives the residents an option; a safe place to ride out a storm. I have seen what staying in modular homes or unsafe structures can do– which is one of the reasons we chose these particular areas, as they contain a lot of mobile homes.”
Gaddy further explains why the selected shelters are such a great fit for the City of Oxford.
“Oxford was looking for a self-contained shelter that could be placed in some existing places around the community that would really be a turn-key solution. The B’Safe shelter provides that because it is not only an enclosed place to keep people safe during the storm, but it also has restrooms and other facilities to help people stay there and be as comfortable as possible,” Gaddy said. “Having safe rooms in Oxford will really give peace of mind to the residents here. With the strategic placement of the shelters, they are highly accessible to the people who reside in the area.”
Gaddy also shared how Calhoun County and its Emergency Management Agency continues to look for options to expand the protective capacity of their shelter system in the County.
“I think this is a great start, but it is by no means the end. We would love to see more prefabricated shelters brought in to give access to even more residents in the county. It’s not just the capacity, but also the travel time. By placing additional shelters around the community, we can make sure people get in them quickly,” Gaddy said. “I think it will really help people when they look at Oxford and see how dedicated the city is to public safety. Oxford is very fortunate to have great police, fire, and EMS services in town. Mayor Craft and the Oxford City Council really wanted to be able to provide an additional layer of protection from something we did not already have. You know, first responders do a great job on a day to day basis, but fighting mother nature is more than any of us can do. Expanding the protection system with these shelters will really give a great option for folks.”
Don Hudson, Oxford’s Parks & Recreation Director and Calhoun County Commission Chairman, said the area can never have too many shelters. “There will be a need. We don’t know when catastrophic weather will happen, we just want to be prepared for it.”
Barry Robertson, Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce Chair and Calhoun County Commissioner of Licenses, shared how he hopes to see other areas around the county take note of what Oxford has done.
“I think this is an opportunity for other municipalities, other local governments, and other communities, to use this as an example of how to protect their citizens,” Robertson said. “To know you have a place you can go during a tornado threat is incredible. I would like for this to encourage any chamber or any economic development of authority to be proactive in their planning. This is something else we can add as an incentive. This is something we can use to promote business and families.”
Mike Roberts, Building Inspector in the City of Oxford and also a victim of the devastating April 27, 2011 tornado, said he gets a knot in his stomach every time he hears bad weather is approaching. “Shelters and safe places are life savers,” Roberts said. “We actually moved from our old place, closer to the shelter. It is important that the community knows where they are and where they need to go when they are warned. Get in there, be safe, and take your neighbors with you. These shelters can make the difference. I know what a tornado can do to one’s home. It only left a bar-b-que grill and trash can when destroying my home.”
According to Goff, Oxford has been the most pleasant city B’Safe has ever dealt with.
“The City of Oxford and its leadership knew coming in what they wanted, and their number one goal was to protect the residents of their city. The planning on their part has been very thorough,” Goff said. “We felt Oxford’s needs were a good fit to launch our new tornado shelter and wanted to make a documentary film of it.”
Mayor Craft closes by saying, “I really appreciate my city council, the Calhoun County Commission, and all my staff. The police, fire– especially the fire department helping put this together– and EMS. Safety has always been a number one priority here in Oxford, Alabama and will continue to be a number one priority. To our citizens: be safe and use our storm shelters when needed.”