BOERNE, Texas -- After the second time that Sean and Lori Franke and their two daughters fled their rural, oak-studded property near here for the half-hour trip to safety in San Antonio, Mrs. Franke decided something had to be done.
They live in a mobile home on their estate acreage while supervising construction of their dream home. Twice in October 2006, when their school-aged daughters ought to be going to bed, the weather radio alarm sounded and they fled an impending storm. The family drove to their office building in the city, where they felt they would be safer.
"Thats when I decided we needed to build a storm shelter in our house," Mrs. Franke said.
When she searched for a solution, Mrs. Franke discovered that several manufacturers make so-called safe rooms, that can be installed in a house and protect occupants from tornadoes, hurricanes and even intruders.
Not only that, Kendall County, TX, where their new home is under construction, was participating in a state and federal grant program that would pay up to $2,500 of the cost of a safe room. Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds are used to pay for state-approved programs submitted by local jurisdictions to reduce the impact of future disasters.
Kendall County is one of six Texas counties in the residential storm shelter mitigation program, according to Jeff Fincke, Kendall Countys Emergency Management Coordinator. He said the Frankes installation is the first of 100 grants the county is authorized to award.
Money for statewide mitigation grants is set aside by law from funds that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spends for relief and recovery when the President declares a major disaster.
The Frankes house was already designed and being framed, when Mrs. Franke found a suitable shelter room to add.
"We had to kind of squeeze it into a corner," her husband said.
The pre-built steel structure features one-quarter-inch steel plate welded over a framework of square steel tubing. The steel door is secured with three deadbolts. It opens inward, so occupants cannot be trapped inside by debris outside.
Franke, a structural engineer, said he is confident it wont blow away or be damaged, no matter how severe the storm. It is bolted and glued to the concrete foundation. "Our house could fall down on top of it and it wouldnt be damaged," he said.
Even though the house is unfinished, as is the interior of the safe room, the Frankes already have used it twice, in July, when severe storms threatened.
Recently Mrs. Franke gave Fincke and a FEMA representative a look at the shelter. Pointing out the wiring hanging from a receptacle in the ceiling, she explained that the unit will have a light, an internet connection, and a direct line to an alarm company. The walls and ceiling will be finished with sheetrock to match the rest of the interior. On the outside, the steel door will be hidden behind a mirrored panel.
She noted that the four-foot by six-foot room also could protect the family from intruders.
Sean Franke said the steel walls are strong enough to withstand a 2x4 hurled at it end-on at 125 miles-an-hour, which can happen in a tornado. It also will withstand most small arms fire, he said.
Fincke, the emergency management coordinator, said he already has recorded the exact location of the safe room with GPS coordinates. In case of a storm in which homes are destroyed, Fincke said the first priority of rescue workers will be to check all of those with safe rooms because they should have survivors inside.
The grant program paid close to half of the $5,900 installed cost of their shelter, Franke said. He said he was so impressed with the product that he has become a distributor for the company.
FEMA provides a variety of information about safe rooms on it...