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Shelter from the storm


A public-service project and state incentive programs aim to help individuals be prepared during tornadic trepidation.

Alex Ewald June 15th, 2011

During one of May’s tornadic storms, Oklahoma City resident Joshua Trent was inspired after his dad called from Calumet, where five of the storms’ deaths occurred, asking him the location of the closest storm shelter.

Joshua Trent
Credits: Lindsey Cooper

After the devastating tornado outbreak that killed 11 people and left more than 1,000 without homes and businesses, Trent said he felt he needed to do something to help.

So he created the website shelterfinder.org, a map of public shelters and safe rooms in the Oklahoma City area. Some, like the Capitol, are open 24/7, while others, like Penn Square Mall, are open only during business hours. Visitors who own or manage properties can submit suggestions, specifying the shelter type (basement, safe room, outdoor cellar or public shelter) and maximum occupancy.

“If it opens up a dialogue, then that’s what we’re after,” Trent said.

While Oklahomans in small towns know where the storm shelters are located, many in metro areas don’t know where to go, Trent said.

The best shelters are underground, he said.

The state is looking to start a safe-room program for Oklahoma residents by 2012, said Keli Cain, spokeswoman for state Department of Emergency Management. Between Oct. 2003 and Dec. 2004 the Oklahoma Residential Shelter Initiative gave residents 75 percent rebates of up to $2,000 to construct inspected and approved safe rooms and shelters. Residents received more than $3 million in rebates and built nearly 4,000 shelters and safe rooms, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which approves and provides funding for programs through hazard mitigation grants.

The state emergency management department is responsible for coordinating responses when disasters overwhelm local authorities.

There were no deaths in Oklahoma from the 2003 tornadoes, and FEMA attributes that to a 1999

program that gave state residents rebates to construct approved shelters and safe rooms. That program resulted in the construction of 6,016 more shelters, according to FEMA.

State Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, requested a legislative study on what Oklahoma is doing to help citizens in severe weather.

The study will address questions Ownbey received when his constituents were scrambling for shelter, he said.

Ownbey suggests an online database for public shelters not unlike Trent’s website, which the study would evaluate.

Despite government support for storm disaster mitigation, Trent said there are no official codes in Oklahoma for buildings to have a shelter, metal roof straps or other preventative measures.

“(It) is surprising in Oklahoma that it’s not a requirement for every building to have one,” he said.

 
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