Friday, April 13, 2012

Underground Shelters: The Best Bet for Staying Safe in a Strong or Violent Tornado Situation...

Numerous instances of strong and violent tornado events over the last 18 months have prompted many families across the central and eastern U.S. to stop and consider what they would do in the event of a tornado emergency in their area.

To be sure, seeking shelter in an interior hallway closet or bathroom on the lowest floor of your home offers adequate protection in most "run of the mill" tornado situations.  With that said, the plain and simple fact of the matter is that if you want to be assured of survival in the event of a strong or violent tornado, you need to seek shelter underground.

Basements, the old "stand by" have come somewhat under fire recently due to the revelation that they are filling up with debris in many significant tornado situations.  I took this photo of a basement full of a house in Joplin after the tragic event there last May...and this wasn't the only basement that I saw full or completely full in the Joplin area:

Clearly, seeking shelter in a basement is safer than staying above ground in most cases.  However, events like the one above and all across the Southeast and Ohio Valley last year (and in some cases already this year) illustrate the fact that in the strongest of tornado situations, you need to protect yourself even further if at all possible.

Long time blog follower Tricia lives in Oklahoma with her husband and four girls.  Some of you will recognize her as Planet Pink, from her blog of the same name.  We've been e-mailing back and forth for awhile now about storm shelters, as she and her family were deciding on the best type to fit their needs.

Well, the exciting day finally came last month, and Tricia and her family are now the proud owners of an underground storm shelter in their garage!  Their shelter was installed by FlatSafe, a National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) and Texas Tech "wind tunnel approved" shelter company based out of Oklahoma City.

The shelter is 3 feet wide, 7 feet long and 5 feet deep and seats 8 people.  It has a single door design and includes a winch should the door become unable to be opened manually:

The single door design has become important in recent years as it has been revealed that dual-door designs (where one door slides over or under another) can jam due to debris pile up or impact.  The particular shelter that Tricia had installed has been tested to hold tons of weight directly on top of the unit without compromising the strength of the door:

The winch would provide assistance if the door were ever to become weighted down by an average amount of debris, but would be of little help in a rare situation where you have an overturned vehicle or other very heavy debris field laying on top of the unit.  Its for that reason that it's important to let neighbors (or someone else close by) know that you have an underground shelter, that way they can alert emergency workers in any extreme case where you might be unable to get out on your own.  The city that Tricia lives in also has a storm shelter registry, which is distributed to emergency personnel in the area in the event of a disaster.

Tricia and her family had to go through some extra steps to have their underground shelter installed.  Namely, they had to have a foundation company come out before the installation to cut out the hole and tie off the post tension cables in the foundation.  Your shelter company should be able to provide guidance to you as to what pre-installation steps would be required based on the construction of your home and soil type in your area.

As you can see in the above photo, Tricia has younger children.  The girls have put together a "storm kit" with crayons, coloring books and a few other things to keep them occupied when down there, and to ease the tension as well.  They've had several "tornado drills" as well, where the family gets down in the shelter and closes the door.

Other than the obvious safety implications, having a shelter installed is very much about establishing peace of mind.  Tricia knows that the chances of an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado striking her home are very small, but she is more at ease during severe weather situations just knowing that the shelter is there if they need it.

While an underground shelter offers the most protection you can get in a violent tornado situation, they are also more expensive than their above ground "tornado saferoom" cousins.  Tornado saferooms also offer a great amount of protection, and if you have a basement in a tornado prone area, I highly recommend having one installed in one corner for added protection from falling debris.

Tricia and her family considered having a saferoom installed in the garage instead of the underground model, but she felt safer taking the underground option (and I agree), not to mention the fact that the saferoom would have taken up quite a bit of their garage space.

If you are building a new home, there are also options available where you can fortify a pre-planned closet or bathroom and turn it into a tornado saferoom at the same time.  If you choose this method and use the closet option, make sure to keep it clear during a severe weather situation!

When considering shelter options, be sure that the company you are planning to deal with has been certified by the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA).  You can visit their website for a listing of qualified companies in your area.  I also suggest that you go a step further and make sure that the particular shelter they propose to install for you has been tested and passed by the Texas Tech Wind Science & Engineering Center.

If you don't have an underground shelter or a tornado saferoom option in your home, there are other actions that you can take to protect yourself and your family.  Please read my guide "Severe Weather Safety and Preparedness:  Seeking Shelter" for helpful information and safety tips before severe weather threatens your area this season.  Many of the tips in the guide are new for 2012, taking lessons from the horrible events of last year.

Neither a shelter nor a safety guide will help you if you are caught unaware of a severe weather threat to your area.  Be sure to stay alert on days when severe weather is forecast (we provide daily severe weather outlooks for the entire country here on the blog as a starting point for you) and listen to NOAA Weather Radio, local media or another trusted source for the latest statements, watches and warnings.

Thanks very much to Tricia and her family for sharing their story with us!

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Shamrock said...

Yay, Pinky!!!! I am so glad you have somewhere safe to go. No more hiding out a friend's :) I'm so happy for you. I worry about you AND Anthill when the weather gets bad. I am with you....I like the underground shelter option much more than above ground!

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Edwina Sybert said...

Though the need for tornado shelters is rising, it is also important to make sure about the specifics. These include picking a trusted tornado shelter provider that could lay all our options clearly and will determine what would fit our needs the most. I am definitely happy to know that Planet Pink checked all of these important factors and is now happy with their newly-installed tornado shelter. Now, they can sit the upcoming tornadoes out.

Edwina Sybert

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