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Shelter from the Tornado

I live in Tornado Alley, in Oklahoma City. The suburb located fifteen miles south of our home, Moore, averages a tornado every 2.5 years since 1991. Until recently, I had believed that it was sufficiently prudent to watch the weather carefully during May, have a tornado bag assembled, and be prepared to shelter in the interior of the house, away from windows, covered by a mattress.

Until two years ago, that is, when I heard weatherman Mike Morgan yelling "Get underground! A closet will not keep you safe during this tornado!"  At that point, I grabbed my son and headed down the street to our neighbors, who have an above-ground safe room (a metal box bolted deep into the foundation of the house), and stayed with them until the tornado watch expired.

Mike Morgan's warnings were accurate during the tornado that recently struck Moore, killing and injuring dozens of people and wiping neighborhoods from the map, leaving only foundations and rubble. I'm sure you've already seen images of the destruction - words won't do it justice.

In 2011, my family signed up to have an underground shelter installed in our garage. We had to wait several months, as the companies that install them are typically swamped with orders after significant tornado strikes. Installation and materials cost approximately $3,000 for a four-to-six person shelter; the process was simple and took about four hours.

Here is a simplified description of the process: the two-person team cuts and removes a section of the garage floor concrete, then uses a Ditch Witch to dig a rectangular cuboid about six feet deep. Concrete is poured in the base of the hole, then a metal box is placed inside, and concrete walls several inches thick are poured around the exterior of the metal shelter. The shelter is topped with a rolling metal lid, and is designed to be narrow enough for a car to park over it.  When a tornado weather threatens, I pull my car forward an extra two feet for easy access to the rolling lid.



Our finished tornado shelter includes steps and two benches. I keep an old pillow, bottled water, and a crank-powered LED lantern in the shelter.  Also, a large plastic bottle with lid -- you never know how long you might be stuck down there - possibly for up to a day or longer for rescue workers to find and dig you out.

We have created a GO bag to bring into the tornado shelter with us, and for possible evacuations. The GO bag took about an hour to assemble, plus an hour to create a printout of important information. Our GO bag includes the following:

  • NOAA crank / solar radio-cell phone charger-flashlight
  • Bag of snacks
  • Entertainment items: cards, dice, coloring book and crayons, notepad and pens
  • Gloves (in case we have to dig ourselves out of the shelter)
  • Toiletry items (hotel sample size), bugspray and SPF 30 lotion
  • Change of socks and underwear
  • Bag of camping toilet paper rolls
  • First aid items - bandaids, tweezer
  • Printout of essential insurance and financial information and important phone numbers
  • Tiny fold-up tarp
  • Swiss Army knife
On top of the bag, I have placed a list that reads:
  • Dog
  • Tornado bag
  • Laptop
  • Cell phones
  • Purse / wallet
  • Nook / book
We have also stored some important digital documents and pictures in web storage, so that if we don't have time to grab the laptop, our important documents and our family pictures will still be available.
It has been such a relief to have this shelter for the last two years, during the extreme weather that is common in Oklahoma. Having the shelter allows me to feel confident in reassuring my son that we will be safe even during a major tornado event.  Even if a tornado wipes away our home, we can still survive, underground.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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