Kia plant’s storm shelters fully operational

By Melanie Ruberti

April 16, 2014

Mother Nature is no match for Kia.

This past January, the plant in West Point installed 14 underground storm shelters on their property. Each one can comfortably hold 100 to 150 people and withstand winds up to 250 miles per hour. According to the Fujita Tornado Damage scale, that’s an F4 and bordering an F5 twister. That kind of storm will level well constructed houses, blow away weak foundations, and throw cars as if they were airborne projectiles.

“It’s as real as you can get,” explained Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia’s (KMMG) Senior Vice President, Randy Jackson. “It makes sense to invest in our people. We have a motto ‘people are the heart and soul of our company,’ and we want to protect them to the maximum.”

The shelters, which cost around $100,000 apiece and specially built by a company in Thomasville, are spread out across the plant property. They are underground, and covered with two doors, or hatches, with an entry point on each side. Once folks are down stairs, the hatch is closed, sealing off the shelter from the storm and any potential debris. Inside, there is a bathroom, electricity, back-up generators, radios, ventilators, exhaust fans and bottled water. Jackson, who has been with KMMG for seven years, said as far as he knows, Kia is the only automobile manufacturing plant with these storm shelters in the state of Georgia.

“When you have the number of people we have, you have to think of self sufficiency,” said Jackson. “Personally, I feel safe. We’ve put in a high level safety enhancement and knowing we can get our employees into a safe position. We’re looking out for them every day. They know they’re safe. Their families know they’re safe.”

In addition to the underground storm shelters, Jackson said there are also places inside all their buildings that are designated as safe places too. The campus also has it’s own command center that is operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In there, trained employees monitor the weather and any potential for severe storms. If a storm is headed towards the plant, tornado sirens will sound inside the buildings and across the property. The plant is also equipped with it’s own first response team, including fire trucks, medical personnel and equipment, among other things.

KMMG has about 3,000 employees who work during three different shifts. On any given day, more than 7,500 people will visit the plant, Jackson said. That includes visitors, special guests, truckers making deliveries and vendors. The entire facility takes up about 650 acres. So, where a person works in the plant will determine which shelter they will go to in an emergency situation.

Jackson said since the underground shelters were installed, the company has held several practice runs, and adjusted their plans accordingly. Currently it’s taken workers 10-12 minutes from the time the sirens sound to when they make it to the shelters. So far, Jackson said, the underground shelters have been well received.

“We want them to come in feeling good about the day,” explained Jackson.

Currently, there are no plans to add any more underground shelters, but Jackson said he hasn’t ruled it out as a possibility in the future. He hopes other auto makers and companies might follow KMMG’s example, and install some of their own.

“It’s a good thing to think about,” Jackson said. “We’re setting a good example for others. We’re getting out in front as a leader. We enhanced what we had, and we challenge others to at least think about it.”