Tuscaloosa Safe Room Survives EF-4 Tornado

Photo Credit: FEMA
William Blakeney grew up in Tuscaloosa County and is well aware of the effects of disasters in the area. In an effort to prepare for disasters like the tornadoes in mid and late April 2011, he built a safe room in his grandparents’ home. Although they weren’t home when the storms devastated the area, the only portion of their home left standing was the multipurpose safe room.

Blakeney and his construction company had built a few safe rooms in the past, mainly in their family members’ homes. While not built according to the design criteria of Federal Emergency Management Agency’s publication FEMA 320,Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business, this safe room was able to withstand the strong winds of the EF-4 tornado that ravaged the area.

FEMA 320 includes construction plans and cost estimates for building individual safe rooms. A safe room, built according to the standards outlined in FEMA 320, in a home or small business provides "near-absolute protection" for its occupants.

“We were not familiar with FEMA specifications, but we had built a few safe rooms,” said Blakeney. “I was actually at the office and used the safe room we had built there when the tornado came through.”

April’s storms claimed over 40 lives in Tuscaloosa and left more than 2,000 residents homeless. The area experiences tornadoes early spring and late fall each year, but never as severe as those on April 2011.

“Tornadoes usually hit the southern or northern parts of the town,” said Blakeney about the recent events. His family had lived in Tuscaloosa County for more than 71 years. “In my time, we’ve never seen one come through the area like that!”

The home was recently renovated so his grandparents could move from the outskirts of the city and live closer to other relatives. In the additional wing, the master bedroom closet was the perfect location to reinforce as the safe room.

“They had a basement in their old home and that made them feel secure,” said Blakeney. “Here, they had nothing.”

The major home renovation was completed just 2 weeks before the storm hit the city and destroyed the home. His grandparents had not completely moved into the house and Blakeney was still adding finishing touches to the home. Fortunately, no one was home when the tornado struck because the entire neighborhood was destroyed.

Safe rooms provide homeowners, like Blakeney’s grandparents, relief during times where they have to quickly seek shelter. Should homeowners decide to build a safe room in their new or existing home, FEMA 320 provides examples of proper installation techniques and designs. Safe rooms built to FEMA 320 standards have saved the lives of people affected by events like the one that destroyed many areas of Alabama.

“We just think it is a great investment for the sense of security,” Blakeney added. “We will be building more in the future using FEMA 320.”

Building safe rooms according to FEMA specifications helps ensure that they will be able to withstand high winds and provide the ultimate protection. Not building according to FEMA specifications is risky and increases the likelihood of the safe room not providing the needed protection.

For additional information, contact the FEMA Safe Room Help Line at 866-222-3580 or at saferoom@dhs.gov. 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.

1 comment:

  1. Well, this just proves how a safe room could withstand the devastation caused by a tornado. And yes, I agree. Safe rooms do provide homeowners with that sense of safety that somehow alleviates their worries of being affected by the tornado. After all, safe rooms were built to protect an individual from heavy storms and tornadoes, being built strong enough to withstand strong winds and debris. Some features of a safe room are, land-line telephone cellular phone or a radio transceiver for communication purposes with the outside world.

    Edwina Sybert