Investigating weak links in storm shelters - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Investigating weak links in storm shelters


Since the April 27 tornado outbreak in 2011, many new storm shelter companies have opened in the Tennessee Valley. Each shelter company has a variety of shelter and safe room options. The most important component they all share is a FEMA approved metal door.

Some of the most violent winds on earth can move across the Tennessee Valley during the spring and fall months. Although the violent wind is concentrated over a small area, due to the dense population of North Alabama and southern Tennessee, it is more likely someone's home will be hit every time a twister touches down.

Many residents have opted to put in a storm shelter or have considered having one built in a new home. Some people have made the decision to make an existing room in their house a safe room.

If the builder didn't follow the FEMA safe room guidelines the storm shelter door could be giving homeowners a false sense of security.

In April, a woman was killed in a safe room in Arkansas when debris caved in on a light duty metal door. It was not a FEMA approved door. The official report is pending and an investigation is underway.

Matt Ragland with F5 Solutions in Harvest said not all metal doors are created equal. He said most people building a new home often don't consider the importance of the door on their safe room.  

"The home owner will take a cheaper type avenue, because it is a metal door," said Ragland. "It looks strong, but if you were to slice it, it's a hollow core door."

The door Matt installs with their DuPont StormRoom has six, six inch by one inch locking bolts to secure the 11 gauge steel door. The door frame is made from 10 gauge steel and weighs more than 300 pounds.

"These types of doors haven't been built forever, just something that just in the last several years has started," said Ragland. "Design criteria has changed over the years and the structural integrity design has changed. So now we start seeing a lot of these older rooms are wanting to be retrofitted."

Ragland also spends a lot of time replacing and retrofitting old storm shelters with FEMA approved steel doors. They can be retrofitted to any existing storm shelter to make them safe, as long as you have a good foundation to work with. These doors aren't cheap. They can set you back as much as $2,700.

The FEMA 320 publication has all the specifics from the doors to the actual shelter. It's a publication that will help you decide how best to provide near-absolute protection for yourself, your family, or employees and answers many questions concerning safe rooms.

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