Building Better Provides Tornado Protection

May 12, 2003

by Freda Parker

Safe Room or Safe Home?

A "safe room" is usually a small, interior area in your home, such as a bathroom or walk-in closet, in which you and your family can wait out a bad weather watch or safely stay in during an actual tornado or hurricane. According to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to be truly "safe," such rooms must be constructed following FEMA's specifications and standards and must be easily accessible at all times.

FEMA says that if you are building a new home, in most locations you can include a safe room for an additional $2500 to $6000. But FEMA does not give cost estimates for retrofitting an existing home with a safe room, nor does it recommend this as a do-it-yourself project for homeowners lacking construction skills and know-how.

"Nevertheless, it does sound good and relatively easy," says David B. South, Monolithic's president. "And safe rooms do work. But are they really the best idea? How livable, how comfortable are they?"

David points out that it's not unusual for a tornado or hurricane watch to last many hours. During a tornado rampage such as we're currently experiencing -- more than 400 twisters in eight days -- that may mean many days of tornado watches, each lasting for four or more hours.

"What if the tornado watch is at night?" David asks. "Can you sleep in the safe room? Can you do anything in there besides just sit and anxiously wait? What's the emotional toll of all that waiting on you and your loved ones? Will you really feel safe in the space usually occupied only by the vacuum cleaner and other household items?

In any case, you will be up all night listening to TV and radio broadcasts, trying to determine if you should run to the safe room, how long you should stay in the safe room and when it is safe to leave the safe room."

The Alternative: A Monolithic Dome Safe Home

Because of the way in which it's designed and constructed, a Monolithic Dome automatically becomes a "safe home." Its steel-reinforced concrete, its rounded shape and its weight make it so.

David says, "Besides being a good idea for anyone planning to build a new home, building a Monolithic Dome home is an especially timely and appropriate idea for disaster survivors who lost their homes. FEMA is encouraging people -- particularly those living in areas prone to tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes -- to be safer by building better. And that makes sense. Wouldn't you rather have an entire home that gives you what FEMA calls near-absolute protection instead of just a tiny room?"

Grants, Loans and Tax Incentives

Government groups, on the local, state and federal level, as well as other organizations offer grants, loans and tax incentives to eligible private citizens, businesses and communities who want to build disaster-safe structures. FEMA has several programs explained in detail on its website: www.fema.gov. FEMA's website also provides links to other programs, such as Kauai's Safe-Room Tax Break Program and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Pre-Disaster Mitigation Loans for Small Businesses Program.

A Success Story

In 1995, Hurricanes Erin and Opal severely damaged Mark and Valerie Sigler's home in Pensacola Beach, Florida. The Siglers applied and received a grant through FEMA's Flood Mitigation Assistance Program for 75% of eligible costs: their Monolithic Dome shell.

"But," says Valerie, "the process was not easy. We had to prove to FEMA that the Monolithic Dome home we planned was worthy of the grant -- that it could withstand hurricane and flood damage." The Siglers did that by organizing an extensive notebook of information, most of which they got directly from Monolithic, about the dome and its advantages.

Valerie says, "We gave them data on all of the dome's advantages -- not just its ability to survive hurricanes, but on how domes can withstand tornadoes, fire, termites, rotting and earthquakes and about their energy efficiency." The Siglers supplemented that information with a list of 35 suppliers and products they intended to use, along with their reasons for their selection: www.domeofahome.com.

Another Alternative

A Monolithic Dome, with all its disaster resistance and sheltering ability, can also be built as an added but separate structure. David South says, "You can build a separate dome that's within easy walking distance of your main house as living quarters for aging parents, a family recreation room, a workshop, a garage, a storage shed -- any number of purposes. Domes come in all sizes and styles. Some are small enough to be transported, and those mainly used as garages or storage sheds can be equipped with an air exchange system.

"Such a shelter," David concludes, "not only provides physical safety when natural disasters strike, but emotional security -- and, if you need or want to sleep through a weather watch -- some necessary comfort."

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