WSU defends weather policy for graduation ceremonies

WICHITA, Kansas – Last Friday, KSN told you about how Wichita State officials could be putting people at risk with a shelter not large enough for everyone in the arena. Monday, we’re asking them “how safe” it is to encourage people to leave with impending severe weather.

“If there’s 90 mile an hour winds, hail, tornado bearing down, we’re not kicking people outside,” said WSU Associate Athletic Director Brad Pittman.

Officials say, without a storm shelter, Koch Arena simply isn’t safe for that many people in the event of a tornado.

So the question remains, what exactly is the university’s plan?

North High held its graduation ceremony at Koch arena Monday night. While there was no severe weather expected Monday night, we know that if it hits, there’s not enough room in the shelters at the arena for everyone.

WSU is defending its weather policy saying they would never force anyone out during a storm.

“We’re just not going to do that. We’re going to do our very best to shelter you the best that we can. That’s never anything that we’ve done or will do,” Pittman said.

Making sure everyone stays safe is WSU’s number one priority.

“We give people the option. When we cancel, you can go home. You can leave and find appropriate shelter where ever you may live, where ever you feel comfortable,” Pittman said. “You’re welcome to stay in the arena and wait out the storm if you want to. We’re not going to kick anyone out.”

Koch Arena can house more than 10,000 people for a graduation ceremony, but their lower levels, that’s used for shelter, can only house about 5,000. WSU says they’ve considered other options, like transporting people to shelter in other WSU buildings.

“How do you get a 100 people to this building? How do you get a 100 people to that building and do so and communicate that effectively?” said Pittman. “As everybody knows, when the sirens go off, it’s usually mass chaos and panic.”

They say building a shelter for that many people isn’t feasible.

“As you know with state money and state institutions, there’s not a whole lot of extra cash to spend on things that aren’t used on a day to day fashion,” Pittman said.

We also reached out to USD 259. They told us they make it clear to guests at graduation that “Spectators may remain in the arena, using limited shelter areas.” They encourage them to “Move away from exterior windows and not leave the building if the tornadic threat is imminent.”

Wichita Public Schools also told us they are simply limited when it comes to graduation ceremonies. They said Koch is one of the very few places that can house the 8,000 people who attend graduation ceremonies.

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