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Batten down the hatches; storm shelters make sense in disaster-prone Missouri


Eileen Yager
MU Extension Web Publishing Team
Phone: 573-882-0604

Published: Thursday, March 25, 2010

Story source:

Eric Evans, 573-884-8984, 573-999-4207 (cell)

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Individuals thinking about building a new home should consider including a safe room, according to a University of Missouri Extension emergency management expert.

Safe rooms provide shelter from high winds and debris during thunderstorms and tornadoes, two types of natural disasters that Missouri sees many times each year.

“Safe rooms, when you put it into new construction, add about one-and-a-half to two percent to the cost of the home,” said Eric Evans, community emergency management specialist.

“That’s building a very strong, sturdy, large safe room.”

The bigger the home, the lower the cost compared to the overall construction cost, he added.

Evans said homeowners should not be hesitant to make the additional investment. “To put it very simply, the cost-benefit analysis is life or death. It’s that simple.”

Incorporating a safe room into new homes can be an economic boon to homebuilders as well. “A builder who uses a safe room in his buildings would find more people interested in the home, especially in the Midwest,” Evans said.

The high-velocity winds in severe thunderstorms and tornadoes are the cause of damage. “That wind picks up debris, and the debris starts destroying homes and anything that it hits because sometimes it’s flying anywhere up to 250 miles per hour,” he said. “You can imagine a two-by-four going 250 miles per hour can do a lot of damage.

“That’s why we get below ground or in a safe place – to shelter ourselves from flying debris. That’s what kills people.”

Safe rooms also can be built into existing homes, in a closet or utility room, though the cost of retrofitting a home can be significantly more than new construction, Evans said. Options include build-your-own plans or pre-constructed safe rooms.

In-ground shelters, which can be built in the backyard, are another option for existing homes, especially those with slab construction.

Whether your home has a safe room or not, Evans said, people need to identify a safe shelter from storms and debris.

“If you live in a mobile home you need to really understand that you shouldn’t stay in a mobile home when there’s a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning,” he said. You need to leave the mobile home and get to a safer location. A car is not a safe location. A ditch, a concrete structure or even a wood-frame structure is safer than a mobile home.

“If you’re on a slab, it’s an interior room like a closet or a hallway that can seal off. You want to get in a corner because there’s a lot wood framing. It’s very important to have as much wood framing around you as possible. It’s going to be your safest place.”

Basements are safe as long as you are away from the danger of glass, nails and other flying debris. “You want to be up against a wall that’s as far underground as possible.”


Storm shelter packet now available online

A new edition of MU Extension’s Storm Shelter Packet is now available online at

The downloadable four-page guide includes advice on building a shelter or safe room for your home or small business. It also includes links to online resources, a list of storm shelter manufacturers serving Missouri and a sample blueprint of a storm cellar.