WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Storm-smart pioneers in Tulsa are building "safe rooms" to show that it is possible to live safely in Tornado Alley -- even in Oklahoma, where few homes have basements.
The safe room idea arose after wind researchers observed that small central halls or closets are often all that remain standing after a tornado. So, they asked, is it possible to armor and anchor those above-ground space to withstand a tornado's punishing winds and missiles?
Their answer is yes.
After 25 years' research, Texas Tech University and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have recently published designs for these "safe rooms," which can be build for $2,000 to $6,000 in, adjacent to, or under a new or existing house.
FEMA selected Tulsa for a pilot program to build several demonstration safe rooms, and the first three are under construction.
"We're taking the old scaredy-hole into the modern home, moving it above ground, and using it as a normal room in the every-day house," says Jack Page, Tulsa's chief building official.
Nancy and Otto Deacon have nearly completed their safe room, built with their own money because they didn't want to wait for the grant paperwork to be cleared. The Deacons were safe and secure May 3, as tornadoes that ripped central Oklahoma were cutting a swath through west Tulsa no more than two miles away.
"Everyone should have the peace of mind we now have," Nancy says. "I feel safer just knowing I have a secure place for my grandmother's old photographs, my family, and our pets."
The Deacons safe room is a 6-by12-foot concrete bunker, with thick steel-reinforced concrete walls, a ceiling mounted to a concrete slab, and a heavy steel door with three deadbolt locks. Their two-story stone house was originally built in a valley, but Nancy moved it in the 1970s when it was threatened by flooding. Now on a hill, the house could blow away but, the researchers say, the safe room should survive up to the strongest tornado.
"Safe rooms can save lives," says Lans Rothfusz, metereologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Tulsa office, part of the Tulsa Safe Room Coalition. The coalition also includes the City of Tulsa Public Works Department, the Home Builders of Greater Tulsa, State Farm Insurance Company, FEMA, the Oklahoma Department of Civil Emergency Management, the Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency, and others. The group operates under the umbrella of a new program called Project Impact, whose goal is to cut disaster losses and make Tulsa a "disaster-resistant community."
The City of Tulsa has contracted with the Tulsa Home Builders to oversee building about eight demonstration safe rooms, underwritten with part of a $50,000 grant through FEMA from a federal group called PATH (Partnerships for Advancing Technology in Housing). Several designs are available in a FEMA booklet , including reinforced concrete or 14-guage metal sheets with 2-3/4-inch laminated press-board panels.
Two of the safe rooms are nearly complete in two new houses that will be on display for the Tulsa Home Builders Parade of Homes June 5-13.
One is being built at 6508 E. 84th St, in The Crescent Addition, by Wayne Farabough of Perfection Homes.
The other is nearly complete in a house at 11401 S. 67th E. Ave., Greystone Addition. "It's a room within a room," builder Bill Rhees, BMI Construction, says of the safe room he's building in a master closet. "If a tornado hits and pulls the house off the foundation, this room would stay intact. It's built like a safe."
There's a 2-inch buffer between the walls of Rhees' safe room and exterior walls of the adjoining room. This design includes steel hurricane straps and an epoxy glue specially designed by Hilti Corp. Rhees tested it by firing a 22-caliber magnum pistol, and the bullet didn't penetrate the...