“Wow!” Spring has arrived and along with it severe storm and tornado season. Our region is located in “Tornado Alley;” we are on the edge of it but nonetheless we get our share of heavy storms and tornados. Thankfully, we do not get hit with tornados on a regular basis, but when we do they can really be bad. I think of the Hallam tornado a few years ago as well as the Omaha tornado of 1975. The saddest part is the loss of life during these events.
Because of improved forecasting the days of completely being surprised by a tornado are rare, but we still need to be prepared. When confronted with taking shelter from a storm we should all have a plan. The first part of the plan is identifying the safest area of your home or business, usually a very small room on the lowest level that does not have any windows. Many times a bathroom or an area under the steps fits these parameters. You should have easy access to blankets or a mattress that can be used for cover. Of course, flashlights and a radio with batteries should be available. As with a fire evacuation plan, it is probably a good idea to review the plan with all family members so they know what to do in case of a tornado. The hope is that the plan never has to be implemented.
Basements, of course, are one of the safest areas during a tornado. But many of our homes built today have a walkout basement, which exposes a large area of the home to potential damage. We have also seen an increase in town homes and independent living homes that are constructed on slabs without any basement protection at all.
Is a basement the absolute safest in a tornado? If you have one then you definitely have an advantage. In rare instances, however, basements can be an unsafe area. Houses have been destroyed, only to have the debris fall into the basement. Homes with walkout basements that face the approaching storm can become unsafe areas because of the lack of soil encompassing the structure. Homeowners with no basements are left with the decision of taking shelter in a bathtub and trying to ride it out. Often times a resident, due to health reasons, is unable to access the basement. There are other alternatives for safety.
Storm shelters or safe rooms are becoming popular options for new construction as well as retro fits into existing homes. These rooms generally follow FEMA guidelines for storm room construction. They can be encased in reinforced concrete or thick steel on all walls and the ceiling as well. They should have a heavy steel door and enough room for several people. These rooms can be placed in a basement or they can be constructed in a garage or backyard. They can be drywalled or in the instance of an exterior location have siding and roofing matching the house. In the off season they can be used for storage or really dressed up into the ultimate “man cave.”
Again, I hope that we never experience another tornado in our area but it is an unfortunate fact that we will. Will you be prepared?