Jul 18, 2019 | By: Malaak Khattab

Tornado Shelter Rooms At Camp Wilderness Are Keeping Campers Safe

Severe weather season is underway in Minnesota and when thunderstorms and tornadoes hit, no place outside is safe. People need to seek shelter quickly, and in remote locations such as Camp Wilderness, that can be difficult.

“There’s only one road in and one road out,” Hubbard County’s Deputy Sheriff and Emergency Manager Brian Halbasch said. “That’s also a challenge. That makes our response time more limited if there was a lot of down trees and damage. So we wanted to ensure that Camp Wilderness staff and campers here had a safe place to go.”

In 2016, the Minnesota Department of Homeland Security of Public Safety division of Homeland Security and Management helped secure funds for the safe room project along with Hubbard County through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. Their mission is to help Minnesota communities prepare, respond and recover from emergencies and disasters.

“The safe room project really gets at a couple of those missions, to help the Boy Scout Camp here be prepared, so that they can safely respond and keep their Scouts safe,” Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in the State of Minnesota Joe Kelly said.

The three-year safe room project cost will benefit the Scouts at Camp Wilderness and the surrounding community. There are two safe rooms, one located at the Boy Scout campsite and the other in the Cub Scout campsite.

“The camp itself had very limited sheltering locations that couldn’t withstand some of the forces of nature that tornadoes would sustain or have high wind damage to,” Halbasch said.

Before they built the tornado safe room in the Boy Scout campsite, the nearest safe room was 20 miles away in Park Rapids.

“Two weeks ago we had severe weather that came in about 11 o’clock, midnight.  Our camp staff had to go into the campsite and collect the campers and bring them back to the shelter,” Camping Services Director for Northern Lights Council and Camp Wilderness Tom Barry said. “That was the very first time we got to use these two faculties, the other one was just this past Sunday when we had tornado warnings issued for Hubbard County.”

Officials at Camp Wilderness are constantly monitoring storms as they come through the Minnesota-North Dakota border. They make decisions to go into shelters within an hour before the storms reach allowing time for staff to gather campers and then they sound their tornado siren.

“This siren notifies everybody within the area. So you can hear it throughout camp and beyond that severe weather is coming in. So that’s a great asset to the local community,” said Barry.

The safe rooms are both within a five-minute walk from the campgrounds and can withstand an EF3 tornado. The building on the Boy Scout campsite can hold 500 people, while the facility on the Cub Scout side can accommodate 150.

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