Why Williston doesn’t have a designated storm shelter

Updated: Jun. 16, 2021 at 6:28 PM CDT
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WILLISTON, N.D. - For larger communities like Williston, getting a designated storm shelter can be difficult. Emergency Manager Mike Smith says such a shelter would need to meet the strict standards of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which can be hard due to the large number of people it would have to house.

“If we had to build shelters that were FEMA-rated; we have a population of tens of thousands of people. We would have to build shelters that would shelter all of those (people),” said Smith.

In smaller towns, it’s common to see churches open up their doors during storms. These are called shelters of last resort because they are not FEMA-rated but would provide more security than being at home. Whether or not those doors open for the public isn’t up to officials.

“The city of Williston and Williams County do not operate those,” Smith explained.

He says people need to be responsible. It’s best to have an idea of where you want to be during a storm, whether that’s at home or in a shelter. This is especially important for people who live inside of mobile homes. Fox Run, north of town, has a shelter available that fits the entire park.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to give everyone there the option to get the heck out of there and get somewhere where they’re going to be completely safe,” said Terry Sweeney, Landlord of Fox Run.

Emergency Management does its best to inform the public of incoming weather through its Facebook page and the ALERT Williams County app. Smith says they are making sure to give residents plenty of time to prepare for incoming weather.

“We’re getting the word out to the public, and we have the opportunity that they can contact us, and we can answer questions and guide them,” said Smith.

While some have questioned why there’s no designated shelter after last week’s storm, Smith says there are no current plans to construct a public storm shelter in the city of Williston.

However, Smith says there are plans in place to use a building as a long-term shelter if families are displaced because of severe weather.

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