The Only Thing Worse Than No Tornado Safe Room is an Improperly Installed Tornado Safe Room

Jay Hamburg, FLASH Consumer Writer

The deadly outbreak of tornadoes in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and across the central United States serves as a stark reminder of the lifesaving value that safe rooms can provide. At the same time, some tragic cases remind us that safe rooms can only protect you and your loved ones if they are properly installed.

Reports that heavy rainfalls caused some underground tornado safe rooms to pop up out of the ground serve as warnings that even a heavy, sturdy, underground tornado safe room can be dislodged by unexpected water flow during a tornado when installed the wrong way.

And, regardless of installation quality, you should never enter an underground tornado safe room if flooding is expected as water flow could cover air vents, or drowning could occur.

“If you have an underground tornado safe room, proper stabilizing and anchoring is very straightforward,” said FLASH SVP Tim Smail. “We recommend using a National Storm Shelter Association Installer Member or ensure your installer follows the ICC/NSSA-500 standard or FEMA P-361 guidelines.”

There are also many affordable options for prefabricated and site-built tornado safe rooms. Prefabricated safe rooms are those that are assembled off-site and transported to the site where they will be installed. A site-built safe room is assembled and installed on-site. Regardless of which type of safe room you choose, be sure to discuss the following with your safe room installation contractor:

  1. Is your home located in a floodplain? If so, keep in mind FEMA P-361 does not allow safe rooms to be installed in high-risk flood hazard areas.
  2. Does your property have the proper access for equipment needed for installation? Installation could involve a large crane or flatbed truck.
  3. Are there easements on your property that would limit where a safe room could be installed?
  4. Have you checked with your neighborhood association to see what design or structural guidelines must be followed? Many associations have rules regarding outdoor structures and their placement.

Most types of tornado safe rooms can be installed and completed in a day, with the average cost for an 8-by-8 foot room ranging from $8,000 to $9,500. Each offers different advantages, but when built and installed properly, all provide the best available life safety and property protection against tornadoes. And it is essential that we point out the need to use a tested door.

The myth that there is nothing you can do to protect against a tornado is false. We want consumers to know that they can survive if they choose smart. Our new video series, Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You, will help them get started.

New Videos from the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH)® Meet Demand for Tornado Safe Room Information

Nonprofit releases “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?” video series in conjunction with America’s PrepareAthon! national readiness campaign

(Tallahassee, FL)— According to tornado watch data from the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, nearly 90% of U.S. counties experienced tornado watches between 2004 and 2013, for an average of 27 watch hours per year. In response to increased interest in tornado safe rooms driven by this pattern, as well as recent, deadly outbreaks, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) today released new videos highlighting five of the most common tornado safe room choices.

FLASH, FEMA, and Portland Cement Association developed the video series in response to consumer desire to better understand their tornado safe room options. The series, “Which Tornado Safe Room is Right for You?”, provides comparative information on cast-in-place, concrete block masonry, insulated concrete forms, precast concrete, and wood-frame safe rooms.

“Today’s marketplace offers an unprecedented range of high-performing, affordable options to save lives and preserve peace of mind for the millions of families in the path of severe weather,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “These videos will help families understand their options for a properly built safe room that will deliver life safety when it counts.”

The new video series is offered in conjunction with America’s PrepareAthon!, an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and communities to come together and prepare for specific hazards through drills, group discussions, and exercises. April 30 is National PrepareAthon! Day, a day to take action in advance of natural hazards, including tornadoes.

To find out more about tornado safe rooms visit flash.org.

All Hail…Spring is Time for Impact-Resistant Roofing

By Terry Sheridan, FLASH consumer writer

There’s no mistaking it. When you hear what sounds like golf balls cascading on your roof during a storm, it means hail. Hail can pit, dent, and shred your roof. But it doesn’t have to. So here’s a homeowner tip—consider an impact-resistant roof.

Hail is no small matter. It causes about $1 billion dollars in damage to crops and property each year, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In 2013, there were 5,457 major hail storms nationwide, with most occurring in May, June, and July. Texas had the largest number of major hail storms, followed by Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Impact-resistant roofs are typically asphalt or metal roofing materials. But, these types of roofs can also be made to appear like wood or slate—thanks to materials like concrete, plastic, recycled rubber, or molded polymer that can be fashioned to look like the real thing.

The added impact-resistant roof protection is more expensive, but costs vary nationwide and by material. In Texas, for example, an asphalt impact-resistant roof can cost about $30 more per square foot—$1,200 for your average 4000-square foot roof, says John Hadden, loss mitigation coordinator for State Farm Insurance Company in Texas (State Farm is a FLASH Legacy Partner).

You’ll want either Class 3 or Class 4 roof material that meets the UL 2218 or FM 4473 test standards. Here’s why that’s important. Class 4 roof material has been tested to withstand the impact of a 2-inch diameter steel ball, simulating hail of a similar size and density, with no damage or fracture to the shingle. Class 3 roof material can withstand 1.75-inch steel ball.

Keep in mind, too, that “impact-resistant” doesn’t mean hail only. It also includes high winds and flying debris.

There’s another reason a Class 3 or 4 roof is important to you—it can save you money on your insurance premium. This varies by where you live and what kinds of weather and natural disaster losses your area faces. But, generally, discounts (that average around 15 percent) or can range from 1 percent to 29 percent, Hadden says.

Premium discounts last the lifetime of the roof—which varies by the type of material—and are transferable to another owner if you sell the house. The economics work well because the upgraded roof pays for itself over time.

Finally, keep in mind that not all roofing contractors who arrive in your neighborhood after a storm are reputable. Some will come seeking to sell impact-resistant roofs to homeowners, but these fraudsters won’t put on an impact-resistant roof, even if they charge for one. They’ll install a cheaper one instead and bill the insurers for the more expensive material.

So, homeowners should be on alert for these types of practices, and take steps to avoid fraud. Ask for references, and be sure to check them. Ask for proof of insurance, and never pay upfront before installations. Verify the roofing shingle products that the contractor is installing are the ones YOU ordered. Check the shingle package label and keep a copy for your records.

Remember, your roof doesn’t have to be damaged by hail. Consider an impact-resistant roof and be ready for hail, golf balls, or whatever comes your way.

Forty-two States At Risk for Earthquake: Residents Should Prepare Now

Early damage reports from today’s earthquake validate the case for simple preparations for families and small businesses to help prevent injury, property damage, and post-earthquake fires

(Tallahassee, FL) Citing today’s Magnitude 6.0 Northern California earthquake, the nonprofit Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) urges residents in 42 USGS-identified earthquake states to take immediate action to prevent injuries, property damage, and post-earthquake fires.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), “While all states have some potential for earthquakes, 42 of the 50 states have a reasonable chance of experiencing damaging ground shaking from an earthquake in 50 years (the typical lifetime of a building). Scientists also conclude that 16 states have a relatively high likelihood of experiencing damaging ground shaking. These states have historically experienced earthquakes with a magnitude 6.0 or greater. The hazard is especially high along the west coast, intermountain west, and in several active regions of the central and eastern U.S., such as near New Madrid, MO, and near Charleston, SC. The 16 states at highest risk are Alaska, Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.”  USGS published new national seismic hazard maps last month.

“Buildings constructed with strong, modern seismic codes and standards will perform better in earthquakes, but it is up to the resident or building owner to take actions inside and around the structure to prevent injuries and interior damage from falling objects, broken glass, and gas leaks,” said FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson. “Most of these critical preparations require only household tools and basic home improvement skills, so acting now before the next earthquake can mean the difference between life and death.”

Chapman-Henderson provided prevention examples for homes and small businesses, including:

  • Support ceiling fans and light fixtures using bracing wire secured to a screw eye embedded at least an inch into the ceiling joist.
  • Anchor the tops of bookcases, file cabinets, and entertainment centers to one or more studs with flexible fasteners.
  • Secure loose shelving by fastening screws into the cabinet or with museum putty placed at each corner bracket.
  • Secure china, collectibles, trophies, and other shelf items with museum putty.
  • Install a lip or blocking device to prevent books or other articles from falling off shelves.
  • Secure televisions, computers, and stereos with buckles and safety straps that also allow easy removal and relocation.
  • Install latches on cabinet doors to prevent them from opening and spilling out contents.
  • Hang mirrors, pictures, and plants using closed hooks to prevent items from falling.
  • Cover windows with approved shatter-resistant safety film to protect against broken glass.
  • Ensure appliances have flexible gas or electrical connections.
  • Strap the top and bottom of a water heater using heavy-gauge metal strapping secured to wall studs.
  • Locate gas shutoff valve and know how to turn off the gas supply with the use of a specialty wrench. (video)
  • Relocate flammable liquids to a garage or outside storage location.

More free information and videos are available online at flash.org, www.youtube.com/stronghomes, and QuakeSmart.

Technical information is derived from FEMA document E-74 Reducing the Risks of Nonstructural Earthquake Damage. QuakeSmart is a FEMA National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP) initiative to help businesses in at-risk communities implement mitigation actions in addition to basic preparedness activities, such as creating and exercising disaster plans, preparing disaster supply kits, and knowing how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On (www.ShakeOut.org).

Disaster Safety Leaders Gather to Boost America’s Disaster Resilience

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The Build it Better Leadership Forum held May 15-17 in Charlotte, NC brought together experts to identify and discuss mitigation best practices, public policy efforts, communication success stories and emerging research.

FLASH President and CEO Leslie Chapman-Henderson’s panel tackled the important topic – “What Do We Do Now? The Path to Community Resilience.”  Margaret Davidson, Acting Director, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management; David Canaan, Director, Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services and John Plodinec, Ph.D., Associate Director, Resilience Technologies Community and Regional Resilience Institute joined Chapman-Henderson  on the panel.

Additional discussions addressed the unforeseen consequences from Hurricane Sandy with on-the-ground experts addressing the complexity of emergency management and rescue efforts along with the compounding effects of wind and water on community infrastructure.

The event featured a keynote address from Wayne Goodwin, North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance and remarks by National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb, PhD.  For a full wrap and additional resources including presentations from speakers, visit mitigationleadership.com

Special thanks to John Plodinec and his take on the upbeat and energetic meeting. See a blurb from his blog below and visit John Plodinec’s blog for the rest of his post.

“Thursday and Friday I had the pleasure to attend the Build It Better Leadership Forum in Charlotte. Renaissance Reinsurance, the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH), and their partners put on a superlative event bringing together nearly all of the stakeholders in what Leslie Chapman-Henderson has dubbed the Mitigation Movement. Presentations (are now available) on mitigationleadership.com, so I’m just going to hit a few highlights and throw in a few gratuitous comments.”

‘A Tale of Two Homes’ – Tornado: One Family’s Personal Account of How Safe Rooms Save Lives

The Harrison Family leave their safe room following the 4/27/11 Alabama tornadoes.Today, we launched the latest in our successful educational Tale of Two Homes video series: A Tale of Two Homes – Tornado.  The video tells the remarkable story of the Harrison family of Athens, AL, who survived an EF-4 tornado that completely destroyed their home and most others in their neighborhood.  The Harrison’s and their two children emerged unscathed from their tornado safe room shortly after the tornado passed.  As a result, they have chosen to share their story of survival to further spread the message — safe rooms save lives.

A Father’s Decision to Build a Safe Room Saves His Family

Kevin and Sarabeth Harrison are convinced that they and their two young children are alive today thanks to the safe room they consciously decided to build into the corner of their garage.  Made of reinforced concrete block, the family took refuge as a tornado devastated their neighborhood and surrounding areas – killing 250 people in its path.  The Harrisons are still shocked to recall how 30 seconds of roaring winds forever altered the lives and landscape of their community.  “The tornado ran right on top of us,” Kevin Harrison said.

Tornado safe rooms save lives. The Harrison family’s experience is a perfect example. Their decision to take their safety into their own hands and build a safe room undoubtedly protected them from serious injury and possible death when the tornado hit Athens April 27, 2011.  Their willingness to share their story to encourage other families to build safe rooms makes them true heroes of the disaster safety movement

Give an Ordinary Room an Extraordinary Purpose

A safe room can provide ultimate life safety protection from the dangerous forces of severe winds and tornadoes.  Homeowners can build or retrofit the interior spaces of  their homes to safe-room standards or choose to purchase pre-fabricated safe rooms designed to withstand tornado-force winds.  Closets, bathrooms, laundry rooms and outdoor rooms like garden sheds and pool houses can be enhanced to serve as safe rooms.

A properly built safe room not only protects families from high-wind events, it also creates a multi-use space in the home that adds to its value.  Tornado safe rooms increase the sale price of a home by 3.5 percent or an average of $4,200.  For example, anyone who installs a tornado safe room in their home is able to recoup almost all of their investment when they sell. The price of a safe room can start around $3,500 to $4,000 depending on its size and built-in amenities. A $5,000 tornado safe room will provide an 84 percent return on investment.

Visit http://www.flash.org to see “A Tale of Two Homes — Tornado.”