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The Debate Over Tornado Shelters

Even though Moore Oklahoma is known to have a lot of tornado activity, there is no code requiring emergency shelters and safe rooms in homes.  According to a report from the New York Times, only one in 10 new homes had one when the recent tornado struck.  There is also a short supply of public shelters.  Anita Wagoner, director of sales and marketing at Oklahoma City-based Home Creations said, “Even if you want to go to a safe place, there’s not enough.”

City officials have opposed requiring shelters because they feel it would make housing too expensive.  Shelters generally range from $2,000-$6,000 for residential units.  According to the Zeller Home Value Index, the average home value is $107,900.  Robert Crout, president of the Central Oklahoma Home Builders Association said, “This is the worst tornado that there’s ever been.  To say that every new home must have a tornado shelter and that its $5,000 each… That would be really difficult for all people to be able to afford and to have a house at all.”

Wagoner said, “We offer shelters as an option, but we haven’t made them standard because people aren’t willing to pay for it. Right now they will.  In April and May they will.  But sometimes we’ll have a special, and customers will opt instead for the eye candy.  People just don’t see the need until they see the tragedy.”

Home Creations does provide more safety features than is required by code as a standard in their homes.  Every house is equipped with Jay Boltz, OSB around the entire perimeter of the house, and tornado straps that anchor the top plate of the home to the rafters.  These homes can withstand winds of 260 mph.  Wagoner said, “Since storms are evaluated based on what they destroy, “We avoid saying that they’ll withstand a tornado.  We just say they’re more structurally sound.”

Wagner explains that there has been discussions about tightening the building code to require these kind of features, but it hasn’t happened.  However, higher building standards wouldn’t be enough for a storm like the one that struck on Monday.  Even though a storm shelter or safe room is a homeowner’s best option for safety, there are varying opinions about what’s really safe.  Wagoner said, “If there is an F4 or F5, it doesn’t matter what you do to a home; you have to be underground.  Even above ground storm shelters are not safe.”

According to shelter manufacturers, improved engineering makes the shelters safe.  Marty Strough, CEO of Berryville Arkansas-based Storm Rooms of America said, “Technology has caught up to the point where you can be safe above ground.”

Above ground shelters have been certified by the Texas Tech University Debris Impact Testing Lab as capable of withstanding F5 storms.  Larry Tanner, a research associate at the National Wind Institute and Debris Impact Testing Lab said, “If the shelter has been tested as an F5, it’s good for 250 mph tornado.”

The lab also recommends indoor shelters instead of those that are accessible only from the outside, since people encounter flying debris while trying to reach them and are less likely to use them.

Source: www.builderonline.com

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