Technologies behind storm shelters, safe rooms developed at Texas Tech

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Updated: 5/22/2013 2:25 pm
Updated Wednesday, 1:15p.m. - The mayor of Moore, Oklahoma, is calling for storm shelters or safe rooms to be required for all new single-family and multifamily homes.

Glen Lewis said he will propose an ordinance in the next couple of days. The measure could be in force within months.

Texas Tech's Wind Science and Engineering Research Center was established in 1970, following the infamous Lubbock tornado that killed 26 people and did more than $100 million in damage.

Today it's called the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University. It's still conducting groundbreaking research, but has expanded to include wind energy, wind hazard mitigation, wind-induced damage, severe storms, and wind-related economics.

Texas Tech wind scientists remain the recognized authorities on just about every aspect of wind and wind-induced effects. Many life-saving technologies trace back to years of painstaking study of storms and debris conducted by Tech scientists at many of the nation's major disasters.

Below-ground shelters and in-house safe rooms are finding their way into more family budgets following deadly events like the tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma on Monday. At least 24 people, including nine children, were killed. Another 324 people were injured.

Dr. Ernst Kiesling recently retired from the Institute, and as Executive Director of the National Storm Shelter Association.

"What our approach to design is, is to provide occupant protection in a small room like a closet, a bathroom, or a manufactured shelter. This might be a steel box, a concrete box, because that small space can be hardened and stiffened relatively economically."

Kiesling said it's worthwhile to invest in a safe room not only for protection, but for peace of mind.

"The probability of being hit by a tornado is relatively small, and even for those who are affected, the probability of being killed is very small," Kiesling said. "But that's not very comforting when the warnings are issued or the sirens go off. So, I think what you're getting with a storm shelter is a peace of mind of knowing there's a safe place available."

"I tell my guys when we build these things, 'We're dealing with somebody's life. So make sure every product that goes in it is right on the money.'"

Kevin Reed, owner of Clearview Custom Homes, said on average, his company builds 25 to 30 homes a year. Of those homes, about 90 percent have a basement or a safe room.

"It's well worth the money," Reed said. "We're building these safe rooms anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 depending on size. That's why most people choose a safe room over a basement, because cost is so much less. Basements are on average, $35,000."

He said with concrete and steel framing, they're built to withstand the harshest conditions.

"It starts with the concrete footing that's 30 inches deep and 30 inches wide," Reed said. "It has rebar, two layers of rebar that's actually 16 inches on center. These are all specs that we use from Tech when we build it. The walls are eight feet tall, eight inch cinderblock, and they are filled with, of course rebar and concrete. The ceiling is actually six inches thick with rebar, twelve inches on center."

Reed said the rooms are designed for a centralized, interior location in the home. He said the builders take measures to make sure the rooms perform the way they're designed to in times of need.

Find extensive information on the National Wind Institute here.
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