Are underground storm shelters safe??
2015 has been a hectic storm season for much of Oklahoma. Non stop rain, flash flooding, and constant tornado warnings have become the norm, but as we approach the middle of May, the end of severe weather season ( if there is such a thing) is in sight. The Summer heat makes it much more difficult for tornadoes to form and we typically get a break until Fall returns. We are almost there everybody, only a few more weeks of anxiety. Speaking of anxiety, I’m sure everybody has seen the media coverage about the lady that drowned inside her outdoor cellar and probably seen the pictures of storm shelters that have either floated out of the ground or have filled up with water. How is all of this happening? I thought being underground was the safest place to be when tornadoes strike. Is this still the case or should I consider an above ground safe room instead? Many of you reading this have probably had these thoughts when reading the paper or after seeing some of the images. Let’s further examine the situation.
Are underground storm shelters still safe??
Without hesitation, the answer to this question is YES! The hundreds if not thousands of lives that have been saved over just the last decade are proof of that. Google ‘storm shelters save lives’ and you can easily find a countless number of articles and videos about people who fled for safety during a tornado in an underground shelter. Underground garage model storm shelters and outdoor storm cellars are not perfect, but they are pretty close to it. Do some research, we can’t find any documented evidence of anybody ever being killed in an underground garage model shelter that meets FEMA guidelines and has been impact tested at Texas Tech’s Wind institute in Lubbock. It just hasn’t happened. The lady that drowned inside her cellar last week was a tragedy and everybody at F5 Storm Shelters is really very sad about it. We know that people buy our products because they no longer want to stress about severe weather. They want to know that no matter what happens, their family is going to be safe. Unfortunately, all storm shelters are not created equal. Older storm cellars that don’t meet current day FEMA guidelines and DIY projects are not going to be as safe as a storm shelter sold and installed to you by a professional. Sadly, the cellar this lady was in appears like it was extremely old and outdated. Before ever purchasing a storm shelter, please make sure to do your research. Make sure the company’s designs meet FEMA guidelines by meeting FEMA codes P-320, 360, and ICC-500. Has the company had their products impact tested and if so can they show you proof? What kind of rating do they have with the BBB and what are previous customers saying about them online? All these things matter.
Why are all these storm shelters floating out of the ground and filling up with water?
If you have a storm shelter already or are currently looking around for one, the pictures floating around social media have probably been pretty disturbing. The sight of the underground garage model filled to the lids with water terrifying. This is definitely a disadvantage for this particular model. Luckily, the person was able to get their family out of the shelter to avoid the rushing water and their house was not in an area greatly affected by the tornado, but what can be done to prevent this from happening again? Sadly, there isn’t a whole lot. These shelters are designed for safety from severe weather. Just about every company is installing flush mount storm shelters these days. This means, they are installed so that the lids will be even with your garage floor. If you are concerned with water getting inside your shelter, you can have your installer raise the shelter slightly above the garage floor. When they go to re-pour the slab, the should be able to trow the wet concrete at an angle to steer water around the tornado shelter. To the naked eye, it will still look flush, but will also offer protection from filling with water. Like we said, these shelters are designed for safety from tornadoes. The weather last week in Oklahoma was just a crazy fluke type situation. The day these shelters filled with water, the Oklahoma City metro area got 8 inches of rain. At one point, 3 inches fell in just an hour! That is more rain then the area gets in the average month. In fact if you go back through state history, OKC has never received so much water in such a short time frame. For the first time ever, the National Weather Service issued a “flash flood emergency” for Oklahoma City. This type of thing just never happens and more then likely, will never happen again. If you live in a low area or even in a flood plan and had an underground storm shelter in your garage, if the garage flooded, there was nowhere for water to go except inside the storm shelter. However, if you do not know if you live in a flood plane, upon going to pull a permit through your city, they should inform you wheter you are or not. If you are told that you do live in this type of area, an above ground safe room is going to be a safer option for your situation. Despite these freak occurrences, seeking safety in a storm shelter is still your safest option if a tornado is close by.
What about the outdoor cellars popping completely out of the ground?
To me, this all looks like an installation issue. If you have seen the images, notice that all of them are steel shelters and not concrete. Steel is good because it is much lighter then concrete. It allows a company to more easily access your back yard for an installation. Instead of backing a truck up to the hole and lowering the shelter into the ground, which requires alot of free space, you can simply pick the shelter up with an excavator and carry it to the hole that has been dug. Being that the shelter weights substantially less, you can’t simply install it the same was you would install a concrete unit. These type of shelters need to be at least somewhat encased in concrete. Back-filling with just dirt will not prevent the shelter from floating if we get a lot of rain. When you install storm shelters, you have to have blueprints created and sealed by an engineer. This not only discloses how the shelter is to be built, but will also describe how it needs to be installed. Every blueprint created it going to have a section that discusses buoyancy. This lists what needs to be done to prevent the shelter from ever floating out of the ground. This all goes back to researching the company you select to install your shelter. Make sure that they know what they are doing.
If you have any questions or concerns about anything to do with storm shelters or saferooms, please feel free to call us. We have locations in both OKC and Tulsa so we are easily accessible by most people in the state. We want you to know that we are here to help. Stay Alive, Call F5!
F5 Storm Shelters OKC (405) 824-7209
Tulsa (918) 970-4770 Stay Alive, Call F5!