When an EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore on May 20, 2013, an “in-residence” safe room saved the lives of Doreen Hunt and her daughter Anastasia.
The existing safe room was one of the main reasons the Hunts had purchased the home six years earlier. Over that time, they took shelter in the room on at least ten occasions. Each of those previous incidents had been a false alarm, but not this time.
“May 20 was the first time that we got in there when it was really a potential storm,” said Anastasia. “Before the tornado hit, I really don’t know how confident I was regarding safe rooms. I thought to myself, if a big tornado comes and the house is destroyed, what’s going to make this thing remain standing when the rest of the house is gone?”
Her doubt quickly vanished as the 10 x 10 foot safe room (with its eight-inch-thick concrete walls) withstood the force of a tornado traveling at a wind speed of 295 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Secure inside the safe room, the Hunts listened to the tornado devastating their neighborhood. “It sounded like a train rumbling through the house,” Anastasia recalled. Doreen continued to hold out hope that their home had survived. But her daughter thought, “With that kind of noise, no way. I knew the house was gone. I also knew that the safe room had saved our lives.”<?xml:namespace prefix = o />
Once the tornado had passed, mother and daughter emerged to a landscape they barely recognized. “When we came out of the safe room and saw the devastation, I said ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ That was all I could say,” Doreen recalled.
“Everything was flattened and all of our furniture was ripped apart. But we were still alive.”
Located in a bathroom and doubling as a closet, the Hunts’ safe room was the only thing left standing.
Following the storm, rescue workers were immediately on the scene to help them emerge. Doreen attributes this quick response to the fact that their safe room was registered with the local fire department.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are two types of residential safe rooms: in-residence and stand-alone (located adjacent to or near the residence).
FEMA defines an in-residence safe room as a specially designed “hardened” room like a bathroom or closet that serves as an area of protection. A stand-alone safe room is similar in function and design, but is a separate structure installed outside the house, either above or below the ground surface.
Whether installed during the initial phase of construction or retrofitted afterward, either type of safe room provides the same level of protection against tornadoes as long as the design and construction requirements and guidance are followed.
“It doesn’t matter where you live, you’ll have some kind of natural disaster,” said Doreen Hunt. “As long as you’re prepared, you can survive it.”
For more information on safe rooms log onto FEMA.gov/safe-rooms