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Tornado Shelters

When thinking of tornado shelters, the common image most people have in their minds is the scene from the movie The Wizard of Oz where the family at the beginning of the movie is scrambling across their farm to get to their underground shelter out in the middle of the field.

While it is still true that some farming families still use this kind of shelter, many people who have to take cover in tornado shelters don't run to a shelter in an open field anymore.

Modern history and reality have taught us that tornadoes can and have hit every state in the contiguous U.S., and many of them hit cities and populated residential areas-not just farms out in the middle of Kansas.

And even if someone does live out in the middle of Kansas, it may not be practical or financially feasible to build an underground shelter. So what are the options for building practical tornado shelters? And why should everyone (no matter where you live) consider having one?

Safe Rooms: Tornado Shelters Built Into Your Home Right Where You Are

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (also known as FEMA) is now using the term "safe room" or "safe rooms" when referring to tornado shelters because it's a common understanding that when a tornado hits a town or a city, most people flee to their homes or they are already at home when the tornado strikes. Anyone who's been through a tornado (or the threat of one) knows that in most cases people have just a few minutes-sometimes just seconds-to take cover.

This is not a time to be running outside to find shelter. You have to shelter "in place." That's why FEMA uses the term safe rooms. It's a proven fact that many tornado victims have to "shelter in place" and having a safe room or shelter in their own home often saves lives and minimizes injuries.
Often tornado shelters are built into basements for the obvious reason that they are below ground at least to some extent and are reinforced with concrete or solid concrete block walls. But there are a lot of people who live in tornado-prone areas of the U.S. who do not have basements at all.

People in those situations are not without options though. Tornado shelters or safe rooms can be built in or onto the exterior of your home as a simple addition, no bigger than a large closet if necessary. There is also the option of building a shelter in an existing garage, into the framework of a carport, or on top of a concrete patio next to your home.

The size required for tornado shelters or safe rooms in or adjacent to your home will depend on how many people you need to fit in it. If just a few people need to use the shelter, the option of building a small closet-size safe room on the side of a house or in a corner of a garage built out of concrete blocks and some other basic materials is a fairly easy task to carry out and is really not all that expensive.

Tornado Shelters Can Do Double Duty as Protection from Fire and Other Threats

Shelters or safe rooms go beyond helping provide protection when tornadoes approach. If built out of fireproof materials such as concrete or cement and steel, they can provide shelter from wildfires, which affect much of the U.S. And even in the case where a neighbor's house catches on fire in the middle of the night, an "in place" shelter can keep you safe if you're not able to vacate your own home in time.

Everyone also knows that the American home is not the safe sanctuary that it was decades ago. In spite of all we do to protect ourselves from crime and intruders, events such as home invasions are unfortunately very common. Tornado shelters and safe rooms can do double duty as a place to escape to when an intruder forces their way into your home can be a great life saving measure, providing you protection until help arrives.

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