The Only Thing Worse Than No Mitigation is the Wrong Mitigation

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After decades of effort, the marketplace for tornado safe rooms and shelters is finally rising. Consider that more than 3,000 tornado shelter permits have been issued in the City of Moore, Oklahoma since the March 25 tornado outbreak, and officials project that 7,800 Moore homes (40%) now have the essential safety feature.

Success here can be traced to relentless commitment to perfecting the building science by visionaries like FLASH Leadership Partner Dr. Ernst Kiesling and the FEMA Building Science team; strategic messaging by our many partners including the NSSA; and cost/benefit studies by noted economists like Dr. Kevin Simmons of Austin College.

The progress is significant, but enter the next challenge. Safe rooms aren’t as prevalent as they should be throughout all vulnerable areas yet, and not all tornado safe rooms are created equal.

So now that the market is responding, we must reemphasize the message that safe rooms and shelters should be constructed or fabricated to the most modern, stringent guidance or standards of either FEMA P-320, P-361 or ICC/NSSA 500. A nonconforming, poorly constructed safe room can do more harm than good by creating a false sense of security and putting families at risk.

For this reason, we took the opportunity at the 2015 NAHB International Builders Show “Home Safe Home Showcase” with our Legacy Partners FEMA and Portland Cement Association (PCA) to ask the questions that families want answered. The video series provides an overview of five types of safe rooms that can be built during new construction or added to an existing structure above-ground, below-ground, inside the home, outside in the garage, or in the yard.

Builders at the show were pleasantly surprised to learn that most types of safe rooms can be installed and completed in a day with the average cost for an 8-by-8-foot room from $8,000 to $9,500. Each offers different advantages, but all—when built right—provide the best available life safety protection against tornadoes. And it is essential that we point out the need to use a tested door.

One family knows firsthand the value of a safe room. Kevin and Sarabeth Harrison survived the deadly April 27, 2011 tornado that descended upon Athens, Alabama, by taking refuge in their concrete-block safe room with their two young children. The Harrisons have since moved to another home, installed another type of safe room, and have had to take shelter in that safe room during a tornado warning. We captured their inspirational story in our A Tale of Two Homes – Tornado, and it went viral, all the way to the National Building Museum “Designing for Disaster” exhibit.

Since then, the myth that there is nothing you can do to protect against a tornado has been under siege by accurate, life-saving information that a safe room is the right place to weather a tornado.

As stories of disaster survival often do, the Harrison video helps people understand that they can survive. Our new video series will help families understand exactly how to do it.

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