Launch Slideshow

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Giving Them Shelter

Giving Them Shelter

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    Number or Tornadoes

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    Number or Tornado DeathsSource: National Weather Service

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    Barger and Sons' 104-inch-tall, aboveground storm shelter can accommodate 12 people. This version is becoming more popular because it is handicap accessible.

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    Half, or 40 inches, of the partial underground shelter is belowgrade. Deflector plates cover vent openings to prevent debris from intruding.

Barger and Sons' aboveground version is gaining popularity. With the population aging, it's much easier to walk right into it quickly. They also are handicap-accessable and can accommodate wheelchairs. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are expressing more interest.

“They can walk into or be ushered in a wheelchair into an aboveground shelter,” says Barger. “They're not as pretty, but you don't want to skimp.” The belowground version is much easier to beautify or hide with landscaping.

The partial underground version costs $3000 for local delivery. But after the customer pays for excavation and installation, the cost is similar to the $5400 for the aboveground version, which is free-standing and requires no installation.

Avoiding liability

Barger strongly suggests precast producers who are interested in manufacturing storm shelters should join the NSSA. “It takes a lot of the liability off of the producer,” he says. “We use that as a selling point.”

The producer's door already successfully went through the Texas Tech Wind Science and Engineering Research Center testing. This requires a shelter's door to withstand being struck by a 2x4 traveling 100 mph.

“We got our door certified through Texas Tech and we still didn't feel it was enough,” Barger says. “NSSA brought things to our attention. We went through a second engineering review. It gives us peace of mind.”

Thanks to increased awareness, Barger sees this niche segment growing. If a tornado does not directly impact a homeowner, he sees coverage of their fury on TV more than ever thanks to 24-hour news and weather channels, storm chasers, and videos of almost every storm.

The NSSA's Kiesling says people generally become complacent and “interest and inquiries subside rather quickly after a storm. But there will be more lingering interest than usual because of the seriousness of the situation this year.”

The South was hit especially hard in 2011, giving credence to talk of a “southern tornado alley” or “new tornado alley.” “These states are getting more and more tornadoes and nobody is prepared,” Barger says. “We had one five minutes from our house and I don't even have a shelter. We all think it's never going to happen to us, and it will.”

For more on the producer in this story, visitwww.bargerandsons.com.Here, you can watch the Texas Tech 100 mph impact test video. For more on the National Storm Shelter Association, visit its website atwww.nssa.cc.

For More Information...

There are two main resources for information on storm shelter construction standards. Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA), calls the differences “modest.” The International Code Council (ICC) standard has processes and procedures for testing and debris impact. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) document stresses flood protection. For example, it does not permit shelters to be installed in flood zones.

Published jointly by the NSSA and the ICC, the “ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters” provides minimum design and construction requirements for storm shelters that provide a safe refuge from storms that produce high winds, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. ICC 500 is a national consensus standard. It is included in the International Building Code and the International Residential Code. The NSSA requires its members to meet this standard. For more, visit the NSSA's website at www.nssa.cc and click on the link in the Library section.

FEMA 320, “Taking Shelter From the Storm, Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business,” provides designs for basement, belowground, and aboveground safe rooms. Any shelter that receives FEMA funding must meet these guidelines. For more information, visit www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/fema320.shtm.