The two elementary schools leveled by the deadly tornado that swept through the Oklahoma City area Monday lacked designated safe rooms designed to protect children and teachers, despite state warnings that the absence of such facilities imperils lives.
At least two other schools in Moore — the epicenter of the disaster — did have safe rooms. So far no fatalities have been tied to those schools, whose buildings were fortified after a devastating twister hit the area in 1999.
These disparities in structural standards speak to the seeming randomness of who lived and who died in a natural disaster now blamed for taking the lives of at least 24 people, including nine children. Requirements for safe rooms in public schools vary from community to community across the swath of Midwestern and Southern states so accustomed to lethal twisters that it is known as Tornado Alley.
In Oklahoma and in bordering states, land-use regulations are often derided as unnecessary government intrusions. State building codes do not require that schools provide safe rooms, leaving the decision to individual school districts.
State emergency managers in Oklahoma do not track which schools maintain adequate storm shelters — a fact state authorities highlighted as a worrisome…