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Educators more vigilant for severe storms after '08 tornadoes
A Hall County school bus leaves Lyman Hall Elementary on Tuesday afternoon passing the Hall County Fire Station on Memorial Park Drive, which served as a shelter for teachers and students at the school when last year’s tornadoes moved through the area.

Many teachers at Oakwood and Lyman Hall elementaries need no reminder of the havoc nature unleashed on their schools a year ago.

Moments before a tornado hit and damaged the schools just after class let out on Aug. 26, 2008, nearly 100 students at both campuses were taking part in after-school activities.

No students were injured in any of the three tornadoes that hit Hall County, but Oakwood Elementary Principal Karla Swafford said the gravity of the day remains fresh, and safety is a top priority.

"I think it’s on our minds more now," Swafford said. "Our teachers knew exactly what to do, and they did a great job that day."

Hall County Fire Capt. Scott Cagle estimated the two schools sustained $815,000 in damage.

The tornado damaged four first-grade classrooms at Oakwood Elementary, and the same tornado damaged the gym roof at Lyman Hall Elementary.

While construction workers quickly repaired the damage, local educators and emergency service workers beefed up their severe weather responses.

Since last August, Gainesville schools had its severe weather plan approved by the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

"In the wake of that, we worked more closely with GEMA," Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. "... We’ve made sure there’s no glitches or gaps in the plan."

The old duck and cover is still the go-to plan, but all front offices in Gainesville and Hall schools are equipped with severe weather radios that alert school officials to National Weather Service warnings.

And Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell helped improve educators’ alert systems last August. The severe weather alerts now go directly to educators’ cell phones or BlackBerrys via satellite and are backed up by the Internet, providing them access to severe weather alerts at the same time as local authorities.

Swafford said students had a severe weather drill at the end of last school year, and will practice the safety plan again next month.

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