Home: Safe & Sound Underground

Nature’s most violent storms are headed back to the Sooner State and local contractors are advising residents how to stay safe the next time the siren sounds. By selecting the right tornado shelter for their needs, homeowners would not only protect their loved ones, but can make those tense moments underground a little less unpleasant. “It’s something that you are looking to save your life,” said Aaron Glenn, owner of Aaron’s Storm Shelters.

In the heart of Tornado Alley, Oklahoma is among the states with the highest number of tornadoes per year. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 102 tornadoes hit Oklahoma in 2010 alone.

When it comes to safety and reliability, Glenn recommends concrete underground shelters. His company installs custom shelters that are monolithic structures, built in a single pour of concrete. The floor, the walls and the top are all one piece and that makes the structure firmer. “We’ve been doing them the same way for over 50 years,” he said. 

Glenn explained these shelters are real underground rooms, where residents can have a TV, radio, fan and even a refrigerator. “If you have to stay there for two to three hours, it’s not a problem,” he said. During a storm, one of his neighbors, an older woman who lives alone, chose to spend the night in the shelter because she had everything she needed in there.

People often use the concrete shelters not only as a place to hide during emergencies, but for everything from exercise rooms to home theaters. Another of Glenn’s clients uses the shelter as a quiet room where he can read a book while his grandchildren are running around the house. His wife uses it as a food and wine cellar.

While metal shelters and steel rooms range in price from about $3,000 to $6,000 according to their size, concrete underground rooms cost about $1000 more. Yet they are considered a permanent structure and add value to the home. “Concrete or not, all homes in the area need some sort of protection”, said Richard Crow, owner of Ground Zero Shelters. He said buyers always prefer a house with a shelter.

Steel underground models are the most widely used and usually the most inexpensive. They also are the easiest to install. People often have them in their garage so they won’t have to run in the rain or amid flying debris to get inside. “The garage floor unit is out of sight until you need it,” said Crow. “You also don’t have to close the lid until you hear the debris hitting the garage door.”

One of the disadvantages is that they are relatively small. The average size for six adults is three feet wide by six feet long. “You are pretty tight in there,” said Matt Shores, owner of Smart Safe Tornado Shelters. “But if you are scared, you don’t care how comfortable it is.”

Buyers also should remember that older residents may have a hard time using the removable vertical ladder and the sliding door may be difficult to open if covered by debris. Metal shelters can also conduct electricity from downed power lines or lightning. However, they can be used for storage or as a lockable safe. “Men always say they could use them as a place to change oil and work on a car,” added Crow.

Stacy Price, owner of All Safe Tornado Shelters, said looks matter when parents try to convince frightened children to go underground. A clean and welcoming interior can alleviate some of the negative emotions, especially when people have to stay there longer. Price offers shelters made of fiberglass and stainless steel. They have plastic honeycomb composite floors and glossy white gel-coat finish similar to modern bathtub linings. “They are very eye-pleasing and comfortable,” she said.

People in wheelchairs often choose above-ground steel rooms. They can be installed in pre-existing homes or the house can be built around them. The thicker and heavier they are, the more they cost. “They are much better than a closet or a bathtub to hide in,” said Shores, but he added an underground unit is always safer. “You just don’t know what’s flying around in the debris; it might be a tractor or a trailer truck.”

Most shelters don’t need a lot of maintenance, other than weeding around the entrance or cleaning the dirt off the rolling doors. Still, it is a good idea to always keep them ready. “A couple times a year, go down and check your supplies,” advises Crow. An emergency kit, radio, extra batteries, flashlights, bottled water, nonperishable snacks and medications should stay stocked.

Once installed, the shelter should be registered with the city, so that emergency crews can easily locate it. You can register it online at the City of Edmond’s website or by calling 359-4564. For more information on storm shelters, you can visit their websites at www.aaronsstormshelters.com,
www.allsafeshelters.com,www.groundzeroshelters.com and www.smartsafeshelters.com

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