Storm shelters may become mandatory in new schools

National Wind Institute tests shelter safety, proves it saves lives


The spring season has already brought a rash of severe weather and tornadoes to parts of the country.  Preliminary data showed that storm shelters have prevented deaths for many taking cover from the storm.

Researchers at the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University are leading experts in the field of storms shelters and their safety.  Tests are conducted weekly to evaluate the construction of above ground safe shelters.

"We test shelter products, shelters and shelter doors," said professor Larry Tanner, who conducts the tests.

Using a pressurized cannon, a 2 by 4 is shot into various shelters and materials to test viability and safety.  Debris, shot out of the cannon, can travel over 100 miles per hour, simulating an EF5 tornado.  Many of the shelters and shelter doors they test stay intact, proving safety.  With that idea in mind, why are storm shelters not more widespread?

"I still hear of people being killed in rollover accidents in automobiles who were not wearing their seat belts," said Dr. Larry Kiesling, a professor at the National Wind Institute and the Executive Director of the National Storm Shelter Association.

In other words, while technology is in place, many families have opted not to make the purchase according to Kiesling.  The reason lies with a relatively low risk of seeing a tornado and a high cost.

Dr. Kielsling, who has studied above ground shelters for over four decades, believes, however, mandates in public venues will likely happen in time.

"Apartments, daycare centers, nursing homes, etc., said Kiesling.  "There, I think mandatory regulations are appropriate."

"It is coming -- this requirement for public areas to have shelters," added Tanner.

The biggest push, so far, has been associated with schools.  Spurring the movement was the death of seven students in 2013 in Moore, Okla.  A large tornado flattened Plaza Towers Elementary School.

So far, Alabama is the only state that mandates that shelters be constructed in newly built schools. Kiesling theorized that many states may follow, including Texas. 

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