Alabama Family Takes Refuge from April Tornado in Safe Room

Pre-fabricated safe room Photo Credit: FEMA
When an EF-5 tornado struck the western part of Jefferson County, Alabama, near Birmingham, on April 8, 1998, Rebecca Henderson and her family had taken refuge under her mobile home. Damage to Henderson’s home was major. The front door and left side were gone. Yet, she considered herself lucky because the church next door was completely destroyed. The sight of the destruction convinced her that she needed a safe room.

Feeling insecure about seeking shelter under her mobile home, Henderson decided to prepare for future storms. She had read the information provided in a local newspaper regarding Alabama’s safe room initiative and the application process. Henderson applied for a grant.  Alabama’s Taking Shelter from the Storm Safe Room Initiative was implemented in December 2000 as a result of a tornado event on December 16, 2000. Twelve people were killed, and more than 300 persons injured. Several hundred homes were destroyed or damaged.

In 2001, Henderson became a grant recipient. She purchased a prefabricated in-ground safe room. Total cost, including installation, was $4,715. She was reimbursed $3,500, the amount of the grant.

“We were first in our area to get a safe room. We were given a list of approved safe rooms and we chose this one,” said Henderson. “I like it,” added her son, Tyler. “It makes me feel real safe.”

Since installation, Henderson has used her safe room during several tornadic events, including the tornado outbreak in April 2011.

“We did get in our safe room during the storms, but they didn’t do much damage to this area. We just had a lot of wind-blown debris,” said Henderson. “Most residents here live in mobile homes. Some refuse to leave them during the storm. If you are going to live in one, you need to get a safe room.”

People considering purchasing a safe room should make certain that it is verified by the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA). NSSA is a non-profit organization with a quality verification and seal program. Members of the NSSA that manufacture and construct residential safe rooms submit their designs to the NSSA for third-party design reviews to ensure verification of compliance with FEMA 320 criteria. This organization is also helpful in validating vendor claims of compliance with FEMA criteria for safe rooms. Their website is a good source for verified safe room vendors.

For additional information, contact the FEMA Safe Room Help Line at 866-222-3580 or at The help line provides information on where to go for assistance regarding hazard mitigation grants and other grant funding, project eligibility, and guidelines for safe room construction. FEMA’s safe room web site is another source of information.

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