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With hurricane season upon us, it seems time to examine the concept of a safe room. A safe room has traditionally been defined as a place where the family can gather and wait out a storm, under the safest possible conditions.
In recent years however, we have seen the evolution of the safe room. A safe room is now defined as a concrete or reinforced “bunker” in your home, basement or garage. Homes in tornado and hurricane prone areas are now often built with a concrete safe room in the center of the home.
For our purposes we will refer to an area that is not specially built for safety as a safe haven and a commercially built area as a safe room.
Concrete safe rooms can be expensive to add to an existing home. As you save to add your bunker there are steps you can take right now to improve your chances of surviving a weather emergency. Nothing will protect you completely or under all circumstances, but your chances for survival are greatly improved if you have a well-equipped safe haven. These rooms may also be used during power outages, as you assemble your family in a small room your body heat will help to provide you with a warmer place to spend a cold night. Safe havens are also perfect during ice storms as tree limbs fall, during wind or dust storms and during chemical spills or attacks.
Begin by choosing an area in the center of the house with no windows. A bathroom or closet under a staircase will work well. A basement is the best location in tornado or hurricane country, but only if you are located away from a storm surge area or flood plain. When choosing a location also take into account which room will be the quickest room to seal in order to prevent chemicals from entering the area in the event of a spill or chemical attack.
Re-enforcing the structure of your room is definitely something you should consider doing now. Remove the sheet rock and bolt the framing to the floor and ceiling, continue by adding more bracing between the studs. Adding sheets of plywood to the walls will greatly increase the safety of your haven since most injuries during a storm are caused by flying debris. While plywood is not going to completely prevent debris traveling at high speeds from penetrating your haven, it will provide greater protection than sheet rock alone. Don’t forget to re-enforce the ceiling. Once you have attached the plywood add sheetrock to add move protections but also to finish the wall to match the rest of the house. You will want to consult with an expert for more ideas, but with the help of family and friends you should be able to make most of these changes yourself. If you have hollow core doors replace them with solid wood or metal doors. Do a little research and get the one with the best wind resistance rating. Once the room is repainted no one will notice the precautions you have taken. Safe havens are a great selling point when you are ready to move on to a new home! The Federal Emergency Management Agency has some great information.
Before entering your concrete safe room or your safe haven:
- Close all doors. Closed doors will slow down debris flying thru your home and slow down wind.
- Close and lock all windows in your home. We used to believe opening a window would help in a storm. It does not. Any time you invite air into your home you increase the damage.
- Lower all blinds and close all of the drapes. Closed blinds and drapery will help keep broken glass and debris from flying thru your home and causing injury.
- Shut off the air conditioner and heater. Don’t invite outdoor air in to your home.
- Stock Your Safe Room. You need protection but you will also need supplies during, and especially after, a storm.
Equip your safe haven or safe room, with the following items:
- Ready to eat foods, including snacks, in plastic or metal containers, not glass. Some suggestions: Peanut butter, jelly, crackers, canned cheese spreads, granola bars, canned meats, canned fruits, canned vegetables, sweetened cereals, trail mix, hard candy, lollipops.
- Can opener.
- Water (take care not to underestimate your needs for the time the storm is passing plus a few days after the storm while relief is on its way). Individual filtering water bottles are a great item to add as you can then drink water that is filtered and safe without storing gallons.
- Food for pets.
- Baby food and diapers.
- Change of clothes for each family member.
- Sturdy shoes.
- Paper plates, cups, bowls and utensils.
- Pet dishes.
- Wet wipes.
- Sanitation facility (porta potty with chemicals).
- Toilet paper.
- Feminine hygiene needs.
- AM/FM Radio battery or crank operated.
- Batteries (stored outside of the radio or flashlight).
- Glow sticks – NO CANDLES.
- Toys, books, scriptures and games.
- 120 hour kits for use during and after the storm has passed.
- Important documents, these should already be in your 120 hour kits.
- First aid kit and book.
- Medication such as pain relievers and anti-diarrhea.
- Land line phone with cord, not a portable phone (cell phones will probably not work after a natural disaster – a land line phone will be needed to communicate).
- Personalized phone directory with local emergency numbers as well as the numbers for out of state contacts. Local lines may not be available and your only communication option may be out of state or out of the area contacts.
- Fire extinguisher.
- Folding shovel and ax to help you dig out.
Although most storms pass fairly quickly and you may not need all these items, they will become very valuable after the storm has passed. Many of the items should already be in your 120 hour kits so this list should not be overwhelming.
During the storm, cover family members with the blankets and pillows in your room to protect them from debris. When the storm has ended be careful when exiting your room. There may be unexpected debris as well as rodents, snakes and insects, which are not normally present. Do not exit without shoes on. Watch for downed power lines. If it is night and you are confident there are no gas leaks or danger of further collapse, wait until there is light outside before leaving the immediate area.
If you are in the center of a tornado or hurricane, nothing except a concrete safe room will completely protect you. If you are however, on the outer limits of the storm a safe haven may well save your life.