Posts

Severe Weather Awareness-Why You Need an In House Safe Room or Outside Storm Shelter

Why You Need a Storm Shelter

In the United States there are approximately 1,200 tornadoes each year. Safe-T-Shelter has compiled the following notes on storm shelters and safe rooms for those of you thinking about safety in the wake of recent storms.

The US has the most tornadoes of any country in the world. Though we experience more than 1,200 each year, a busy year could see more than 1,500 tornadoes. The United States also has the strongest and most violent tornadoes of any country in the world because of our natural geography and size.

Assessing Your Risk / Tornado Preparedness
Building codes provide design data that offers guidance for weather, seismic, and other events. This weather data provides information like precipitation / snow loads and wind loads. No design guidelines for wind loads come close to the force exerted by severe weather events like tornadoes.  So, the major takeaway is easy.  Your home is not designed to withstand even a moderate tornado, to ensure your safety if a tornado strikes, you need a saferoom or storm shelter.

Basic wind speed information from the 2012 International Residential Code shows a wind speed of 90 mph for most of the US. Coastal areas receive higher wind speed ratings, up to 140 mph, because of hurricanes. Even moderate tornadoes like an F1 measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale can exceed the wind load used to design our houses across the majority of the country.

NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center publishes information on extreme weather events, including tornadoes. Some of the statistics are shocking. For example, few would have guessed that Florida experienced more tornadoes, by a wide margin, on average than any other southeastern state from 1991 to 2010?

You can also use records from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center to assess the risk for your specific location. The data from the SPC is also startling – there were 758 tornadoes in the United States just during April 2011. In addition to information on tornadoes, you can find a multitude of weather and seismic events recorded on government websites to help you assess your risk.

Safe Room & Storm Shelter Standards

The Federal Emergency Management Agency publishes a series of construction standards for buildings in areas known for weather-related hazards like hurricanes and tornadoes. FEMA has published a saferoom standard for these extreme weather events. FEMA describes storm shelters and safe rooms as, “a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide ‘near-absolute protection’ in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes.”

Saferooms are typically above-ground rooms in your home. This is in contrast to a storm shelter that is often in a garage or even on a separate concrete pad elsewhere on your property. You can find FEMA’s guidance for saferooms in its P-320 “Taking Shelter from the Storm” document. Safe rooms and most storm shelters are designed for a small number of occupants that you’d expect in a home or small business. But at Safe-T-Shelter, we also produce shelters custom to any size requirement.  We can create a shelter to protect 1 or to protect 500+.  The ICC 500 standard from the International Code Council provides guidance for larger shelters that you’d expect for schools, municipalities, and commercial buildings.

Installing a safe room in an existing home can be a significant challenge because of the potential amount of demolition and structural work required, but many homes have locations under stairs, or walk in closets that can be retrofitted to perfectly contain a storm shelter, or allow for panels to be installed converting the existing structure into a perfectly safe solution. The room needs to be adequately connected to the structure and foundation of the house to resist the wind and other loads delivered in a weather event like a tornado or hurricane. Safe rooms are still best suited to be installed in the construction of a home, but don't let that deter you.  There are affordable solutions for everyone, that will allow for your family to be properly prepared for when the next storm strikes. 

If you’d like to add a shelter to your existing home, you can consider a prefabricated storm shelter or some modular designs like we discussed in the paragraph above.

While in previous years, the recommendation for storm shelters was for them to be installed underground, that is not longer the case.  New design standards and enhanced technologies have shifted thinking, and now aboveground storm shelters are the preferred solutions for a variety of reasons.  They have been tested to withstand winds and projectiles associated with EF5 winds, and do not pose the risks of entrapment and flooding that underground storm shelters do.  Additionally, above ground storm shelters are typically cheaper to install and build, meaning it will cost less to protect your family than ever before.

Municipalities across the country have also now created a storm shelter or safe room registry so they know to check each storm shelter to be sure people aren’t trapped inside. But having an above ground storm shelter means the likelihood of being trapped is much smaller, but you should still register your storm shelter with as many registry databases as possible. If your municipality doesn’t have a storm shelter registry, you should give more thought to where you locate your storm shelter access to reduce the potential of any obstruction limiting your ability to exit the stormshelter.

While some homes do have underground stormshelters, in garage storm shelters or basement storm shelters, if that is the route you choose to take, we highly recommend having the doors open exterior to the house.  If your home is destroyed, the last thing you want to have happen is have the house collapse on top of your exit from your storm shelter.  And even worse, if the water line breaks, and water enters your shelter, while you are unable to exit.  This is an unfortunate, and all too common reality when a large tornado strikes.

Another thing to consider before installing an underground storm shelter or underground safe room, is that access can be an issue when you need to use it.  The elderly, and those in a wheelchair might not be able to enter your shelter, defeating the purpose.  We recommend shelters that are wheelchair accessible, that have doors that are easy to open no matter a person's particular strength.   

Consider Your Pets
Don't forget to size your storm shelter to include your pets. It’s amazing to see how many people lose track of their pets when they’re separated during severe weather events. It’s also critical to have your pets microchipped so they can be identified and returned to you if you do become separated in a storm.

Tornado Shelters and Storm Shelters

Don't Wait, Pay Attention, and Utilize Your Storm Shelter Before it is Too Late.

Too many people rely on outdoor warning sirens to alert them though these are typically designed only to alert people who are outside – away from their weather radios. So please invest the $10 in a battery powered weather radio (be sure to change the batteries regularly, like a smoke alarm, each time the time changes).  There are also many apps that can be downloaded to your phone to provide additional coverage and alert you of weather events around your exact location.  But a warning is only beneficial if you act.  What’s the point of having a storm shelter if you don’t utilize it when you receive a warning?  Don't wait until the storm is moments away.  Camp out in your storm shelter or safe room, if necessary, until the threat has completely passed.  

You can also find active alerts on the National Weather Service website. This resource lets you check alerts by state so you can see weather event concerns even when you’re traveling.

Insurance Breaks?

It may be possible to get credit toward your premiums for code-plus construction that helps your home resist weather events, start by calling your agent.  

We also recommend that you inquire about flood insurance, even if you think you don’t need it. Weather events often include rain that can create flash flood events that aren’t covered under many home owner’s insurance policies, so ask about an addendum to your coverage. The fee increase would be nominal, but would protect you if something catastrophic happened.  We would hate for you to be in a situation where your home owner’s policy provider argues that damage was caused by water intrusion and is thus excluded from your standard coverage.

The Bottom Line, Why You Need a Storm Shelter

Many severe storms materialize with little, if any notice. There’s no time to pack up and escape, which means you need a better option than trying to ride out a tornado in your bathtub. Very few buildings are “storm proof,” but for a small investment, you can both protect your family and increase the value of your home. We can design and construct buildings that will protect you no matter how large the storm is, or how large your family is.

To protect your family from weather events, please consider starting with a narrow focus: a first aid kit, a weather radio and a storm shelter. 

If you need some help deciding the proper size or placement of a storm shelter / safe room, we are happy to consult with you for free to determine the best option for you and your family. 

Custom Tornado Shelters for any Amount of People

Excellent Communication. Great attention to detail, very attentive to our questions, and the delivery and install were faster than even expected!  We highly recommend Safe-T-Shelter.

Mr. Zeiler
Satisfied Customer
Commercial Storm Shelters

Tornado Preparedness Tips for School Systems and School Administrators Without School Storm Shelters

Tornado Preparedness Tips for School Systems and School Administrators Without School Storm Shelters

PREPARE A TORNADO SAFETY PLAN FOR YOUR SCHOOL…

The most important part of tornado safety in schools, and in similar logistical arrangements such as nursing homes, is to develop a good tornado safety plan tailored to your building design and ability to move people, if you don’t have a community storm shelter or commercial storm shelter at your school. Sample School SchematicI have found, through damage surveys and other visits, that a lot of schools settle for a cookbook-style, “one size fits all” approach to tornado safety — often based on outdated literature — which can be dangerous when considering the fact that every school is built differently. The basic concept in the schematic at right is usually correct; but it must be adapted to your unique school arrangements! For example, the idea of a relatively safe hallway becomes invalid if the hall is lined with plate glass, or if it has windows to the outdoors. Hallways can turn into wind tunnels filled with flying glass and other dangerous objects.

Ideally, the lowest possible level is the safest. However, in some large schools, there may not be enough time to direct all occupants of the upper floors into safe areas, or enough space in those lowest-floor safe areas to hold everyone. Ultimately, the school administrators need to evaluate the time, space, traffic flow and coordination needed to direct all the kids and staff down into safe areas in an organized manner. That will require a customized drill which will vary from building to building, so the guidelines here must be rather open-ended by necessity.

Some things to consider:

  • SECONDS COUNT. If it takes more than 2 or 3 minutes to move all upper-floor people down, things get really risky! Though the average lead (advance) time on tornado warnings has gone up a lot in recent years, remember that the average still includes some warnings with NO lead time, or just a minute or two. Warnings are not absolutely perfect, radars can’t see everything, and tornadoes don’t always touch down miles away and make themselves visible before hitting. Plan for a reasonable worst-case scenario — a tornado is spotted very closeby, and hits with little or no warning. That way, during the majority of cases when there are warnings with several minutes of lead time, the plan can be executed and those people are all in a safe place within one or two minutes of the first alert. That is the ultimate goal. Now, how do you define a “safe place?” There is no guaranteed “safe place” in a tornado; but…
  • FLYING DEBRIS is the biggest tornado hazard. That’s why one needs to put as many walls as possible between oneself and the tornado. Are there interior hallways, rooms or corridors on the second floor which are NOT exposed to the outside through windows, doors or walls of glass? If not, then it can turn into a death trap of flying broken glass. If there are enough enclosed places on the second floor with no direct exposure to the exterior, perhaps you can save the time needed to move people down one floor. But even then…
  • BUILDING STRENGTH: Architecturally, how sound is the construction of the main building? What interior parts can stay intact during total structural loads created by 150-200 mph winds (which exceed the speeds found in most tornadoes) from any direction? Is anyplace on an upper floor safe enough in such structural stresses? To best answer that, consult a professional architectural engineer — preferably one who has wind engineering experience. Sure, there are budgets to make; and such expertise won’t come cheap — but it can ultimately save lives. FEMA also has a discussion on construction of community tornado shelters, including those for schools. Other valuable sources for help are your local emergency manager’s office, and the Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) at your nearest National Weather Service office.
  • NEW CONSTRUCTION: Although this guide is intended for existing facilities, many of the same concepts can be applied to making tornado-safe schools from the blueprint stage. The same questions about wind damage and tornado safety should be asked of the architects and engineers. Again, this is where a licensed engineer with wind engineering specialization would be the most beneficial; and the FEMA tornado shelter guides are great resources too. FEMA also offers positive examples from Kansas of school tornado-sheltering work. Even if hiring a professional engineer isn’t an option, the builder can line with concrete enough interior rooms in the school to create a series of safe rooms to hold students. Safe rooms aren’t just for houses! They can also be retrofitted into existing facilities; but that is usually much costlier than building them in new construction.
  • PORTABLE CLASSROOMS: These can be death traps. Portable classrooms are most often constructed like mobile homes; and they are just as dangerous. Any sound tornado safety plan must include getting students out of portable classrooms and into a safe area in the main building, as quickly as possible, to minimize the time spend outside and exposed to the elements. While the seconds spent outside will pose considerable risk, the danger inside the trailer is just as great. If feasible, students should be evacuated from portable classrooms before the storm threatens — before the warning, when a tornado or severe thunderstorm watch is issued. Remember: Tornadoes can occur with little or no advance warning. Moving those students inside the main building for every SPC watch may be a hassle; but it may also save precious seconds and the lives of students if a tornado or extremely severe thunderstorm hits later.
  • DANGER – GYMS and AUDITORIUMS: Large, open-span areas, such as gymnasiums, auditoriums and most lunchrooms, can be very dangerous even in weak tornadoes, and should not be used for sheltering people. This sort of room has inherent structural weaknesses with lack of roof support, making them especially prone to collapse with weaker wind loading than more compact areas of the same school building. Consider the aerial photo of Caledonia (MS) High School (below) as an outstanding example of this, when the near side was hit by a tornado in January 2008.

    The next photo shows the inside of the Childress (TX) High School gym after a May 2006 tornado. The tornado was rated F1 (weak, on the original F-scale) at the school, although it did do F2 damage elsewhere. This further illustrates the hazard of indoor areas with large roof spans, even in “weak” tornadoes.  Neither of these schools had a commercial storm shelter / community storm shelter onsite.


SOME ADVANCE STRATEGIES

A carefully developed tornado drill should be run several times a year to keep students and staff in good practice, and to work out any kinks in the drill before it is needed for real. Also, large and easy to read maps or signs with arrows should be posted throughout the hallways directing people to the safe areas. Here are some other important tips:

  • If the school’s alarm system relies on electricity, have a compressed air horn or megaphone to sound the alert in case of power failure.
  • Make special provisions for disabled students and those in portable classrooms. Portable classrooms are like mobile homes — exceptionally dangerous in a tornado.
  • Make sure someone knows how to turn off electricity and gas in the event the school is damaged.
  • Keep children at school beyond regular hours if threatening weather is expected; and inform parents of this policy. Children are safer deep within a school than in a bus or car. Students should not be sent home early if severe weather is approaching, because they may still be out on the roads when it hits.
  • Lunches or assemblies in large rooms should be postponed if severe weather is approaching. As illustrated above, gymnasiums, cafeterias, and auditoriums offer no meaningful protection from tornado-strength winds. Also, even if there is no tornado, severe thunderstorms can generate winds strong enough to cause major damage.
  • Know the county/parish in which your school sits, and keep a highway map nearby to follow storm movement from weather bulletins. Online maps and weather sources can be valuable, but if the power is out, it helps to have paper maps.
  • Have a NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm tone and battery back-up to receive warnings quickly and directly from your local National Weather Service office. A new technology called WRSAME allows you to set such weather radios to alarm for your county and surrounding counties; so look for the WRSAME feature when purchasing weather radio units.
  • Listen to radio and television for information when severe weather is likely. Outlooks and watches from the Storm Prediction Center can also help you be aware of the possibility of severe weather during the school day.
  • Get a custom school storm shelter from Safe-T-Shelter, which provides state-of-the-art above ground storm shelters of all sizes.

WHEN THE TORNADO THREATENS OR A TORNADO WARNING IS ISSUED…

Illustration of Tornado Safety PostureSeconds count. Follow the drill according to the plan you have developed. Lead all students to the designated safe places in a calm, orderly and firm manner. Everyone should then crouch low, head down, protecting the back of the head with the arms. Stay away from windows and large open rooms like gyms and auditoriums.


AFTER THE TORNADO…

Keep students assembled in an orderly manner, in a safe area away from broken glass and other sharp debris, and away from power lines, puddles containing power lines, and emergency traffic areas. While waiting for emergency personnel to arrive, carefully render aid to those who are injured. Keep everyone out of damaged parts of the school; chunks of debris or even that whole section of the building may fall down. Ensure nobody is using matches or lighters, in case of leaking natural gas pipes or fuel tanks nearby. It is very important for teachers, principals and other adult authority figures to set a calm example for students at the disaster scene, and reassure those who are shaken.


Remember, there is no such thing as guaranteed safety from a tornado. Freak accidents happen; and the most violent tornadoes can level and blow away all but the most intensely fortified structures. Extremely violent EF5 tornadoes are very rare, though; and even within one’s path, only a small area has EF5 damage. Most of any tornado’s damage track is actually much weaker and can be survived using sound safety practices.

The best precaution is a commercial storm shelter / community storm shelter for all school children and staff onsite and easily accessible from the school.  At Safe-T-Shelter, we specialize in these custom shelters and can make any shelter for any size requirement.  Please contact us for a custom quote on a commercial storm shelter / community storm shelter for you school system or school administrator.

Tornado Shelters and Storm Shelters

Science Suggests More Active Tornadoes than Ever Before-Tornado Shelters are More Important than Ever

dont-wait-7

Tornado Shelters, More Important than Ever

While there isn’t a long-term trend in the number of U.S. tornadoes stronger than EF0, several recent studies suggest the time distribution of those tornadoes and their tendency to cluster in outbreaks may be changing.  And more activity means having a plan in place to survive a storm is more important than ever.  And luckily, tornado shelters are less expensive and easier to install than in years past.

EF1 Tornado Days and Active Tornado Days

Fewer Tornado Days, But More Active Days

When eliminating EF0 tornadoes from yearly counts, which have steadily risen over the past few decades due to more extensive spotter networks, the implementation of Doppler radar, and advanced technology such as smartphones and social media, there is essentially no long-term yearly trend in the raw number of EF1 and stronger tornadoes.

However, the number of days with at least one EF1+ tornado in the U.S. has fallen from an average of 150 such days in the early 1970s to around 100 days in the first decade of the 21st century, according to an October 2014 study in the journal Science.

However, the study by noted tornado researchers Dr. Harold Brooks of the National Severe Storms Laboratory, Greg Carbin of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, and Dr. Patrick Marsh, also of NOAA/SPC, found the number of days with a large number of tornadoes is actually increasing over time.

“The frequency of days with more than 30 EF1+ (tornadoes) has increased from 0.5 to 1 days per year in the 1960s and 1970s to 3 days per year over the past decade,” says the Brooks et al. study.

In essence, we have fewer days with tornadoes, but are packing more of them into the days we have. “Approximately 20 percent of the annual tornadoes in the most recent decade have occurred on the three biggest days of each year,” says the Brooks et al. study.  So knowing what to do when severe weather strikes, and ideally, having a residential storm shelter, a community storm shelter easily accessible in your city, or a corporate storm shelter or commercial tornado shelter at your business or school is more important than ever.

Another recent study by Dr. James Elsner not only found a similar clustering of tornadoes into fewer days, but also a spatial clustering of tornadoes on those very active days.

“It appears that the risk of big tornado days with densely concentrated clusters of tornadoes is increasing,” Elsner says in the July 2014 study.
Large Swings in Monthly, Yearly Numbers

These clusters cause more damage in a defined area.  So instead of being concerned about a single rotation, and potentially feeling relieved after a tornado passes, it is extremely important to be more vigilant and aware of other tornadoes in the area.  Residential tornado shelters and community storm shelters are the best option to protect yourself from these unpredictable storms.

For only the second time since 1950, the first three weeks of March 2015 passed without a single tornado anywhere in the U.S.
Yet as recently as 2011, almost 1,700 tornadoes ripped across the nation, including 349 tornadoes in a four-day outbreak from April 25-28, the costliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

While year-to-year variability has long been prevalent in U.S. tornado counts, a 2014 study by Dr. Michael Tippett found volatility, a term he uses for variability in tornado counts, has increased since 2000.

Furthermore, the Brooks et al. study found the tendency for more monthly extreme highs and lows in EF1+ tornado counts in recent years.

“Excluding the zero-tornado months, there are more extreme months in the most recent 15 years of the database (1999-2013) than in the first 45 years,” says Brooks et al. 2014.

In other words, we’ve seen extreme high monthly tornado counts (758 tornadoes in April 2011, for example) and extreme low monthly tornado counts (March 2015, for example) more often over the past 15 years, a trend that may continue.

Of course, low tornado count years do not preclude significant tornadoes or tornado outbreaks. Despite the lowest three-year tornado count on record from 2012-2014, we still had destructive outbreaks in March 2012, in May 2013 (Moore and El Reno, Oklahoma), and April 2014 (Vilonia, Arkansas).

When Tornado Season Shifts Into Gear, Skewing Earlier in the Year-The Time to Install an Above Ground Tornado Shelter is NOW

Tornadoes can occur any time of year the overlap of sufficient moisture, atmospheric instability — relatively cold, dry air aloft overlying warm, humid air near the Earth’s surface — and a strong source of lift such as a warm front, dryline, strong jet-stream disturbance occur.

Because of that, it’s difficult to define a tornado season on a national scale as distinctly as, say, a hurricane season.

However, Brooks et al. tracked as a metric the occurrence of the year’s 50th EF1+ tornado to get a sense of whether the timing of the ramp-up in U.S. tornadoes typically seen in spring is changing.

While the long-term average date (March 22) hasn’t changed, Brooks et al. found a marked increase in the number of “late-start” and “early-start” years since the late 1990s. The four latest starts and five of the ten earliest starts to the season all occurred in the 1999-2013 period. These range from late January (1999 and 2008) to late April (2002, 2003, 2004 and 2010).

In essence, even the date the season kicks into a higher gear is becoming more volatile-so don’t wait to install your tornado shelter.

Climate Change Role?

Now, the toughest question: Is climate change playing a role in the increasing variability of the nation’s tornadoes?

The short answer is, possibly.

The challenge in answering this question is linking short-fuse events like tornadoes and tornado outbreaks to long-term changes in atmospheric parameters generally conducive for severe thunderstorms, such as instability and wind shear.

Studies by Dr. Jeff Trapp and Dr. Noah Diffenbaugh, among others, suggest atmospheric instability, driven by increased moisture, is expected to be greater in a warming climate. However, wind shear, crucial for the formation of supercells which can produce the strongest tornadoes, may diminish overall, but may feature more days with higher wind shear.

Therefore, the overall environment may be more conducive for severe thunderstorms (with large hail and damaging winds), but it remains unclear whether the number of tornadoes or even strong tornadoes would necessarily rise in a warming world.

This brings up an interesting possibility, a seasonal outlook for severe weather, similar to hurricane season outlooks.
“I suspect that ultimately knowing if a severe weather season will be above, below, or near normal would be important for reinsurance portfolios as an increasing amount of money is spent on hail and wind claims,” said Dr. Patrick Marsh from NOAA/SPC.

The best advice is don’t think that you can predict the severity of tornado season or even when it begins, and definitely do not wait until after a storm strikes to realize the need to purchase a storm shelter.  Tornado shelters of all sizes are more affordable than ever and Safe-T-Shelter even partners with local credit unions for financing.  Everyone deserves the right to protect their family from unpredictable storms.  So whether it is a residential storm shelter, a community storm shelter, a commercial storm shelter or a corporate storm shelter, Safe-T-Shelter can help, and our 20+ years experience means you can have confidence in our products and our longevity.

November Torndoes-Storm Shelters and Tornado Shelters

Second Tornado Season-Have a Tornado Shelter Plan in Place

Autumn Tornadoes are Extremely Common

Of course Spring is known for its severe thunderstorms that can produce violent tornadoes. However, it’s not the only season known for tornadoes. Fall is considered the “second” tornado season.

“The second half of October, and especially November, can often be a second season for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms,” said tornado expert Dr. Greg Forbes. “In many ways, this is the counterpart to spring, when strong fronts and upper-air systems march across the United States. When enough warm, moist air accompanies these weather systems, the unstable conditions yield severe thunderstorms and sometimes tornadoes.”

People need not have a false sense of security about severe weather and tornadoes simply because the seasons change.  It is extremely important to have a plan in place to keep you, your family, your coworkers, your city, etc. safe during an unpredictable storm.  And Safe-T-Shelter Storm Shelters are the perfect solution for residential storm shelters, community storm shelters, and commercial storm shelters.

One benefit to the cooler temperatures is that installing community storm shelters or corporate tornado shelters is often a faster process due to less demand.

November Torndoes-Storm Shelters and Tornado Shelters
Second Tornado Season: October and November

While most of the largest tornado outbreaks still occur in spring, fall has its share of storms as well. Dr. Forbes examined the storm statistics and found six of the largest 55 known tornado outbreaks occurred in October and November.

May is still the peak month for tornadoes. Up to 52 percent of September’s tornado outbreaks are due to land-falling tropical storms and hurricanes.

October and November’s tornadoes are caused by upper-level troughs (dips in the jet stream) and cold fronts affecting the South and sometimes the Midwest.

The map above shows how many tornadoes have been confirmed by the National Weather Service during the month of November from 1950-2014. Texas has the most, but when adjusted for total area, Mississippi has the most, followed closely by Louisiana and Alabama.

As the map suggests, second-season tornado outbreaks are most common in the Gulf Coast states, where temperature and humidity levels tend to be higher. They can sometimes spread north to the Ohio Valley and southern Great Lakes.

On rare occasions, weak tornadoes can form on the West Coast in November.

Greatest Second-Season Tornado Outbreak: Nov. 21-23, 1992 – 105 Tornadoes

States affected: 13 total, from Texas to the Carolinas.
26 people were killed and 638 were injured.
The outbreak caused $713 million in damage; the Houston area was hit especially hard.
It was rated a top-five worst tornado outbreak in any month since 1950 by Dr. Forbes.
White Plains, Georgia, was practically leveled by an F4 tornado on November 22, 1992.

This outbreak started the Saturday before Thanksgiving 1992 in Houston. An incredible seven tornadoes were spawned in the span of just two hours in the metro area, with three twisters on the ground at one particular time in Harris County. The strongest tornado, rated F4, destroyed more than 200 homes on Houston’s east side. This was the strongest tornado to hit the Houston metro since 1950.
Another EF4 tornado went on a 128-mile-long rampage through Mississippi overnight Saturday into Sunday morning, Nov. 22. The storm claimed 12 lives and damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes.

Fifteen tornadoes touched down in Indiana that Sunday, the largest November outbreak in state records. One tornado was an F4 in southeast Indiana and northern Kentucky. Not to be left out, other F4 tornadoes carved a swath through the far northwest suburbs of Atlanta, and also struck near White Plains and Lake Oconee, Georgia.

Finally, a pair of F3 tornadoes in North Carolina killed two and injured 59.

The message is clear, do not get complacent about tornadoes at any time.  The vast majority of the US is at risk of tornadoes for the vast majority of the year.  Have a plan in place and if you do not have a safe place to go, please contact Safe-T-Shelter to assist in your needs of a residential storm shelter, community storm shelter, or a commercial storm shelter / corporate storm shelter for your employees.  With over 20 years experience and countless storm tested shelters, by choosing Safe-T-Shelter you can be confident and feel safe, no matter how strong the storm.

Don’t Wait for Tragedy to See the Need for a Storm Shelter from Safe-T-Shelter

Residential Storm Shelters or Safe Rooms

After a Storm, Tornado Shelters for Sale, see Increased Interest

Tornado Shelters for Sale

Inquiries about tornado shelters for sale by Safe-T-Shelter storm shelters picked up immediately after deadly tornados hit Alabama in 2011 killing more than 235 statewide and injuring countless others.

Brent Mitchell would much rather reverse this business model.

“We sell a lot of shelters after a tornado goes through,” said Mitchell, chief operating officer of the Hartselle-based Aquamarine Enterprises, the maker of Safe-T-Shelter storm shelters.

“We’d much rather see people taking reasonable steps to be safe before the disaster.”

Mitchell and his wife Melanie are part of the family-owned and woman-owned business that has been keeping communities, families, businesses, and school children and administrators safe for more than 20 years across Tornado Alley.

Mitchell said people are encouraged to take shelter from high winds in a basement or an interior room without windows.

“Obviously, when you’re dealing with really big storms, like we see all over the Southeast, Midwest, and Southwest during tornado season, those precautions aren’t enough,”Mitchell said. “We saw a lot of houses across the state where there was nothing left but the foundation.”

“That’s when safe rooms provide extra protection from these unpredictable storms.”

Tornado Shelter Industry Leaders

Mitchell, his family, and their staff have dedicated a large portion of their lives to keep people safe.  They use rigorous standards, have each of their shelters tested and certified, use only the best materials, and ensure proper installation so that the recipients of the tornado shelter can have full confidence in their purchase.

Brent said his above ground storm shelters have been tested by Texas Tech Wind Institute to withstand EF5 tornadoes — the strongest category on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. The Safe-T-Shelter tornado shelters also exceed the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s projectile standard, which requires storm shelters to withstand debris hurled at 100 mph, Mitchell said.

Safe-T-Shelter has a showroom in Hartselle, AL where interested parties can see the quality of construction and determine the proper size to meet their needs.

Interest in storm shelters and reinforced safe rooms is on the rise, and with financing available at great rates, it is easier than ever to ensure the safety of your family when a tornado strikes, which often happens with little warning.

“Every year, there are so many severe storm systems, so much destruction in the news. It’s generated a large interest in tornado shelters for sale,” said Mitchell. “There has been a sharp increase in demand.”

Quality storm shelters come in all varieties: indoor and outdoor, above ground storm shelters or below, a designated safe room or a reinforced interior room that doubles as everyday living space, he said.

“We’ve been in the business of keeping people safe for a long time,” he said.

Above Ground Storm Shelters have Outpaced Underground Shelters in terms of Safety

Mitchell said underground storm shelters aren’t ideal for many reasons.

“Here comes the storm. The wind is blowing at massive speeds. Now it’s hailing. Many aren’t going to take their wife and baby out in the storm to get to the shelter.”

A Safe-T-Shelter storm shelter is typically installed closer to the home, often under an existing roof on an existing concrete pad/foundation.  They can be installed inside of a home, under stairs if the space exists, or can be placed away from a home on a concrete foundation poured to very detailed specifications to ensure proper safety.  The flexibility of the installation, the lower costs, and ease of financing has continued to make the acquisition easier for those interested in tornado shelters.

Because they build all the products that they sell, they are able to keep prices low, and are able to create storm shelters that can protect a single person or 500+.  Their experience protecting entire rural communities, schools, manufacturing facilities and businesses across the country gives them a unique perspective and ensures that they stay on top of new technologies and ‘creature comforts’ that make time spent in their storm shelters more comfortable. Prices begin around $5,000 based on the number of people that have to be protected and certain issues that affect the installation process..

Units come with forced-air ventilation, lighting, and an uninterruptible power source is also available.  Padded seats, bunks, storage boxes, and more are available to customize your shelter for your specific needs or desires.

“Especially for someone with disabilities in the household that can’t make it to the basement or an outside unit, our above ground storm shelters are ideal in that scenario.”

Mitchell said there is no way to know how many homes have storm shelters, but he knows not enough do.

He said, “All you have to do is follow news coverage after the latest tornado touches down to realize there aren’t enough.”

Storm Shelters and Safe Rooms have never been More Affordable

If there was a single takeaway for people reading this interview, Brent said:

“Don’t wait for tragedy to see the need!”



dont-wait-5

He elaborated, “They’re too rare right now — whether ours or some other company’s,” he said. “Not enough people are preparing for their safety, but interest is rising.”

Emergency supply kit

Some storms produce power outages that last for several days. Having the following items will help you cope:

Bottled water

Non-perishable food

Flashlights & extra batteries

Extra clothing & blankets

An extra set of keys & cash

Medications & first aid kit

Personal hygiene items

Pet supplies

A weather alert radio or portable AM/FM radio

Safety Shelters are the New ‘Updated Kitchen’ in Real Estate

Tornado Shelters for Sale by Safe-T-Shelter are a sound investment, not only for the safety of your family, but they have been proven to increase the value of your home.

Tornado Shelters and Storm Shelters

Tornado Safety Questions and Answers

Tornado Safety Questions and Answers

(beneath the video below)

Storm Shelters, Safe Rooms, and Tornado Shelters

A reinforced safe room (or above-ground tornado shelter) is as good as an underground shelter. Residential Safe rooms are specially-designed reinforced tornado shelters built into homes, schools and other buildings. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA), in close cooperation with experts in wind engineering and tornado damage, has developed detailed guidelines for constructing a safe room and the storm shelters built by Safe-T-Shelter meet or exceed those specifications.

 

Tornado Safety Questions and Answers from NOAA:

 

What should I do in case of a tornado?

That depends on where you are. This list of tornado safety tips covers most situations.

 

What is a tornado watch?

A tornado watch defines a cluster of counties where tornadoes and other kinds of severe weather are possible in the next several hours. It does not mean tornadoes are imminent, just that you need to be alert, and to be prepared to go to safe shelter if tornadoes do happen or a warning is issued. This is the time to turn on local TV or radio, turn on and set the alarm switch on your weather radio, make sure you have ready access to safe shelter, and make your friends and family aware of the potential for tornadoes in the area. The Storm Prediction Center issues tornado and severe thunderstorm watches; here is an example.

 

What is a tornado warning?

A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted, or that Doppler radar indicates a thunderstorm circulation which can spawn a tornado. When a tornado warning is issued for your town or county, take immediate safety precautions. local NWS offices issue tornado warnings.

 

Do mobile homes attract tornadoes?

Of course not. It may seem that way, considering most tornado deaths occur in them, and that some of the most graphic reports of tornado damage come from mobile home communities. The reason for this is that mobile homes are, in general, much easier for a tornado to damage and destroy than well-built houses and office buildings. A brief, relatively weak tornado which may have gone undetected in the wilderness, or misclassified as severe straight-line thunderstorm winds while doing minor damage to sturdy houses, can blow a mobile home apart. Historically, mobile home parks have been reliable indicators, not attractors, of tornadoes. Mobile home communities are also great places for our community shelters to be installed.  If you live in a mobile home community, please tell the owner of the mobile home park to contact Safe-T-Shelter through our website www.stormshelter.com for a free cost estimate for a community shelter.

 

Long ago, I was told to open windows to equalize pressure. Now I have heard that’s a bad thing to do. Which is right?

Opening the windows is absolutely useless, a waste of precious time, and can be very dangerous. Don’t do it. You may be injured by flying glass trying to do it. And if the tornado hits your home, it will blast the windows open anyway.

 

I’ve seen a video of people running under a bridge to ride out a tornado. Is that safe?

Absolutely not! Stopping under a bridge to take shelter from a tornado is a very dangerous idea, for several reasons:

Deadly flying debris can still be blasted into the spaces between bridge and grade, and impaled in any people hiding there.
Even when strongly gripping the girders (if they exist), people may be blown loose, out from under the bridge and into the open–possibly well up into the tornado itself. Chances for survival are not good if that happens.
The bridge itself may fail, peeling apart and creating large flying objects, or even collapsing down onto people underneath. The structural integrity of many bridges in tornado winds is unknown–even for those which may look sturdy.
Whether or not the tornado hits, parking on traffic lanes is illegal and dangerous to yourself and others. It creates a potentially deadly hazard for others, who may plow into your vehicle at full highway speeds in the rain, hail, and/or dust.
Also, it can trap people in the storm’s path against their will, or block emergency vehicles from saving lives.
The people in that infamous video were extremely fortunate not to have been hurt or killed. They were actually not inside the tornado vortex itself, but instead in a surface inflow jet–a small belt of intense wind flowing into the base of the tornado a few dozen yards to their south. Even then, flying debris could have caused serious injury or death. More recently, on 3 May 1999, two people were killed and several others injured outdoors in Newcastle and Moore OK, when a violent tornado blew them out from under bridges on I-44 and I-35. Another person was killed that night in his truck, which was parked under a bridge. For more information, meteorologist Dan Miller of NWS Duluth has assembled an online slide presentation about this problem.

 

So if I’m in a car, which is supposed to be very unsafe, and shouldn’t get under a bridge, what can I do?

Vehicles are notorious as death traps in tornadoes, because they are easily tossed and destroyed. Either leave the vehicle for sturdy shelter or drive out of the tornado’s path. When the traffic is jammed or the tornado is bearing down on you at close range, your only option may be to park safely off the traffic lanes, get out and find a sturdy building for shelter, if possible. If not, lie flat in a low spot, as far from the road as possible (to avoid flying vehicles). However, in open country, the best option is to escape if the tornado is far away. If the traffic allows, and the tornado is distant, you probably have time to drive out of its path. Watch the tornado closely for a few seconds compared to a fixed object in the foreground (such as a tree, pole, or other landmark). If it appears to be moving to your right or left, it is not moving toward you. Still, you should escape at right angles to its track: to your right if it is moving to your left, and vice versa–just to put more distance between you and its path. If the tornado appears to stay in the same place, growing larger or getting closer–but not moving either right or left–it is headed right at you. You must take shelter away from the car or get out of its way fast! If the tornado starts to hit your car, get as low as you can while staying in your seatbelt, leaning down and away from the windows and windshield as far as possible.

 

I have a basement, and my friend said to go to the southwest corner in a tornado. Is that good?

Not necessarily. The SW corner is no safer than any other part of the basement, because walls, floors and furniture can collapse (or be blown) into any corner. The “safe southwest corner” is an old myth based on the belief that, since tornadoes usually come from the SW, debris will preferentially fall into the NE side of the basement. There are several problems with this concept, including:

Tornadoes are mostly circular, so the damaging wind may blow from any direction; and
Tornadoes themselves may arrive from any direction.
In a basement, the safest place is under a sturdy workbench, mattress or other such protection–and out from under heavy furniture or appliances resting on top of the floor above.

 

What is a safe room?

So-called “safe rooms” are reinforced small rooms built in the interior of a home, fortified by concrete and/or steel to offer extra protection against tornadoes, hurricanes and other severe windstorms. They can be built in a basement, or if no basement is available, on the ground floor. In existing homes, interior bathrooms or closets can be fortified into “safe rooms” also. FEMA has more details online. Those who have safe rooms, or any other kind of tornado shelter, should register them with the local fire department to help with rescue in case the entrance(s) are blocked by debris.  If your home does not have a residential storm shelter or safe room, contact us for a free quote.  We also offer low or no interest financing if needed to ensure all those that would like to protect themselves from a potential storm, are able to do so.  You can contact us through our website here (www.stormshelter.com) or at our local or 800# listed above at the top of each page.

 

How can building codes help, or hurt, tornado safety?

Building codes vary greatly across the country, not only from state to state but even from place to place in one county. Codes also have changed over time so that different ages of housing stock in the same community can have different legal standards of strength. Enforcement of codes also can be highly variable, both over time and from place to place. Even the strictest codes won’t help without rigorous enforcement. The bottom line: if you buy an existing house or business structure, you cannot fully know its tornado resistance without knocking holes in wall paneling and exposing areas such as wall-foundation attachments, wall-roof connections and (for multi-story structures) internal attachments from one level to another. The best bet for existing stock may be to retrofit or add on a tornado shelter of some sort, depending on your needs and finances. For new construction, the most tornado-ready codes require, among other things: anchor bolts with nuts and washers attached (connecting foundation to floor plate), strong ties (a.k.a. hurricane clips) connecting floor plate to wall studs and wall studs to roof, and use of straight nails or screws for other connections, not cut nails. If you are considering new construction, please check with your local building-regulation agency, demand above-code work to the level you can afford, and directly monitor your builder’s subcontractors at those crucial early stages to ensure compliance with your own higher standards. NIST has recommended raising standards nationwide, based on their study of the Joplin tornado from 2011.

 

What about community tornado shelters?

Community tornado shelters are excellent ideas for apartment complexes, schools, mobile home parks, factories, office complexes and other facilities where large groups of people live, work or study. FEMA has some excellent design and construction guidance for these kinds of shelters; and a licensed engineer can help customize them to the needs of your facility.  We offer community storm shelters for businesses, or communities alike.  If you are interested in a no obligation cost estimate, please contact us here through our website, or call us during normal business hours.  With over 21 years of experience, and our shelters surviving many direct hits with 0 fatalities, you can count on our product and the quality of our service.  We would love to help keep you and your community or business safe.  We have custom and prefab tornado shelters for sale of all sizes.

 

What about tornado safety in sports stadiums or outdoor festivals?

Excellent question–and a very, very disturbing one to many meteorologists and event planners. Tornadoes have passed close to such gatherings on a few occasions, including a horse race in Omaha on 6 May 1975 and a crowded dog track in West Memphis AR on 14 December 1987. A supercell without a tornado hit a riverside festival in Ft. Worth in 1995, catching over 10,000 people outdoors and bashing many of them with hail bigger than baseballs. Tornadoes have hit the football stadium for the NFL Tennessee Titans, and the basketball arena for the NBA Utah Jazz. Fortunately, they were both nearly empty of people at the time. There is the potential for massive death tolls if a stadium or fairground is hit by a tornado during a concert, festival or sporting event, even with a warning in effect. Fans may never know about the warning; and even if they do, mass disorder could result in casualties even if the tornado doesn’t hit. Stadium, race track and festival managers should work with local emergency management officials to develop a plan for tornado emergencies–both for crowd safety during the watch and warning stages, and (similar to a terrorism plan) for dealing with mass casualties after the tornado.

 

I am a school administrator, and I don’t know where to start with developing a safety plan. Can you help?

Gladly. Every school is different, so a safety plan which works fine for one may not be well-suited for another. There is a website with preparedness tips for school administrators which can provide helpful tips in devising a safety plan. These strategies can be adapted for nursing homes, dorms, barracks and similar structures as well.  Please contact us for a free no obligation cost estimate to provide you with a community storm shelter to protect your school (business, or community).  With over 21 years of experience and with many direct hits to our shelters, we have never had a failure or a lost life.  We would love to help you ensure the safety of all people in your school (business or community) when the next storm strikes.

 

I am seeking advice to protect employees in a large, one-story commercial building that has pre-poured cement outer walls and a metal roof. We have no basement, the interior offices are drywall partitions with a dropped ceiling and there does not appear to be any area that is secure. The local fire department has no suggestions.

This manner of construction is very common; however, it’s hard to know the integrity of any particular building without an engineering analysis, preferably by hiring a specialist with experience in wind engineering. My experience doing damage surveys is that large-span, pre-fab, concrete and metal beam buildings are sturdy up to a “failure point”–which can vary a lot from site to site–but then crumple quickly and violently once that threshold is reached. A concrete-lined (and -topped) safe room with no windows is recommended. This is an emergency bunker that may double as a restroom, break room or employee lounge, but should be big enough to fit all occupants in the event of a warning. For more information on safe rooms, see FEMA’s safe room page, which deals mainly with residential construction, but which can be adapted for office use. FEMA also has posted a page on in-hospital shelter in Kansas, that may be useful for this purpose also. The Wind Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University also provides guidance about shelters. The insulated concrete form (ICF) is a very wind- and debris-resistant construction method for many small buildings or additions, whether doing new construction or retrofitting.  But the best course of action is to contact us for a free no obligation cost estimate to supply your business with a custom tornado shelter to protect your employees from an unpredictable storm.  We offer storm shelters and safe rooms to protect a single person or 500+.  We can customize our offerings to your exact needs because we build them in our facility.  We are not a reseller and that leads to cost savings and more peace of mind due to the transparency of our operations and our reputation that has been built over more than 21 years in business protecting people from dangerous tornadoes.

 

What would happen if a large, violent tornado hit a major city today?

This has happened on several occasions, including in parts of Oklahoma City on 3 May 1999 and Birmingham on 27 April 2011. Because of excellent, timely watches and warnings and intense media coverage of the Oklahoma tornado long before it hit, only 36 people were killed. The damage toll exceeded $1 billion. Still, it did not strike downtown, and passed over many miles of undeveloped land. Moving the same path north or south in the same area may have led to much greater death and damage tolls. The threat exists for a far worse disaster! Placing the same tornado outbreak in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex, especially during rush hour gridlock (with up to 62,000 vehicles stuck in the path), the damage could triple what was done in Oklahoma. There could be staggering death tolls in the hundreds or thousands, devastated infrastructure, overwhelmed emergency services, and massive amounts of rubble requiring months of cleanup. Ponder the prospect of such a tornado’s path in downtown Dallas, for example. The North Texas Council of Governments and NWS Ft. Worth has compiled a very detailed study of several such violent tornado disaster scenarios in the Metroplex, which could be adapted to other major metro areas as well.

 

Could we have some sort of alert system where a computer automatically calls people in a tornado warning to let them know they could be in danger?

This idea has some merit. Right now, though, there are several logistical problems. First, a tornado may take out phone lines, or the power to run them. Barring that, the phone network reaches saturation pretty easily if someone (or something) tries to try to dial thousands of numbers at once. Finally, people would need to be patient and willing to accept a majority of false alarm calls. Most tornado warnings do not contain tornadoes, because of the uncertainties built into tornado detection which we can’t yet help. And even when a tornado happens, it usually hits only a tiny fraction of the warned area (again, because of forecasting uncertainties); so most people called by the automated system would not be directly hit.

 

Are there smartphone apps that offer warnings for tornadoes and other kinds of dangerous weather?

Yes, private companies have developed several apps that relay NWS tornado warnings to smartphones, based on their location and/or user-specified places. For example, you can set some apps to always provide warnings for certain ZIP codes or addresses of interest away from your current location, such as those of your home, business, or friends and loved ones. We cannot endorse any particular apps, but a search in your device provider’s app store should yield some that are highly rated, along with reviews by users. NOAA has partnered with major cellular providers to push “Wireless Emergency Alerts” to most modern cell phones, and those include tornado warnings. Also, some local governments have enacted warning-alert systems that alarm phones in their jurisdictions when warnings are issued. Please check with your local emergency management agency to see if such a system is in place in your area, or soon will be. Caution: cell-phone warnings cannot work if the phone system is disabled, and might fail or be delayed if the network is overloaded (as can happen during a major storm or other disaster).

 

I recently moved from the Plains and noticed that there are no “tornado warning” sirens here. Is this because tornadoes don’t occur here? Isn’t it required to have sirens everywhere?

There is no nationwide requirement for tornado sirens. Siren policy is local and varies from place to place. The National Weather Service has no control over sirens or siren policy. The NWS issues watches and warnings; but it is up to the local governments to have a community readiness system in place for their citizens. In conversations with emergency managers and spotter coordinators, I have found that the two most common reasons for a lack of sirens are low budgets and the misconception that tornadoes cannot happen in an area. Your city and/or county emergency manager would be the first person to query about the tornado preparedness program in your community. Remember: outdoor sirens are for outdoor use. Everyone should have ways to receive warnings besides sirens.

 

Our office would like to print signs (universal symbol image type signs) similar to “emergency exit,” “fire extinguisher,” etc. that could be used to identify designated tornado shelter areas. Can you provide me with a graphic or something I can use?

Sure! There isn’t a universal tornado shelter symbol yet. Any such sign should be very bold and noticeable–yet designed to be simple, with minimal visual clutter, so even a small child can recognize it. In response to this question, here is one possible tornado shelter sign which may be printed and used freely. There are also versions with arrows pointing right, left, up, and down. The signs ideally should be printed in color, on heavy card stock or sticker paper for durability.

 

Thanks for reading our Tornado Safety Questions and Answers and please contact us through our website if you are interested in exploring a tornado shelter for your home, business, or community.