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5 essential safety steps to take before severe weather hits

By Michael Kuhne, AccuWeather staff writer

Immediate survival is often the first priority for many Americans when preparing for a severe weather disaster, but looking ahead into the hours and days following the storm is just as important for preparation, according to one safe room manufacturer.

“People don’t think past survival (initially),” Tornado Alley Armor Owner Monty McGee said.

McGee and his wife, Leslie, own and operate Oklahoma-based Tornado Alley Armor and specialize in custom, modular safe rooms.

Their business is a member of the National Storm Shelter Association, or NSSA, which was founded to provide quality control and industry standards for storm shelters that are available to consumers.

“If you think about it from the perspective of the door swinging open, and your house is gone, you’re going to need things like food, clothing, tennis shoes and emergency supplies,” McGee said. “Anything you will need looking forward into the days and hours after the storm.”


(Photo/NOAA Photo Library)

Shelter safety: What to look for

It is important to make sure the storm shelter is safe and provides an escape if the door is blocked by potential debris, said Mike Smith, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Executive of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions.

“You want to make sure that the door to your storm shelter opens inward,” Smith said.

During severe weather, entrapment is a major concern.

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The modular designs of Tornado Alley Armor are bolted together to eliminate the possibility of entrapment, McGee said, adding they can be re-sized and relocated if needed.

“You can’t get trapped inside of them and you can take it with you when you move,” he said.

The modular shelters can be installed in basements, garages, bedroom closets and mobile homes if a concrete slab is available or added if one is not present.

Customers also have the option of constructing safe rooms themselves. While the storm shelter industry is unregulated, it is still important to know the quality of storm shelter you are purchasing and if the product truly meets all of the NSSA’s recommended standards and not just one aspect of testing, McGee said.

McGee's company adheres to Texas Technical University’s testing and NSSA’s guidelines.

“The National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) grew out of a concern for storm shelter quality after the Oklahoma City tornadoes of May 1999,” according to the NSAA’s website. "Redevelopment of the shelter concept had reached the point where Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had published a booklet FEMA 320 entitled "Taking Shelter From the Storm-Building a Safe Room Inside Your House or Small Business".

Access to shelter and supplies

Having a storm shelter that cannot be accessed effectively defeats the purpose of having one at all, Smith said.

These shelters should be as easily accessible as possible.

“You would be better off with an indoor shelter than an outdoor shelter,” he said.

When preparing for severe weather disasters, people should ensure proper footwear is available, along with flashlights, weather radios and water.

“You do not want to be barefoot,” Smith said, citing the aftermath of debris from the storms can pose threats of injury. McGee agreed with Smith, and recommended ensuring food and emergency supplies are readily available following the disaster.

“An indoor safe room is a better choice,” he said. “It’s easy to access and you have walls around you providing protection.”

Security and restoration planning

One thing people normally don’t think about is who they can call immediately after the storm for security and restoration, Smith said.

“The very first thing you have to do is secure the property,” he said.

If doors and windows are shattered and missing, securing the property quickly is essential.

“You’re not going to be able to sleep there,” Smith said. “You’re going to need provisions to secure the property and you should already have a name available.”

Making sure the property is structurally sound and having a repair company in mind should be planned before the severe weather, he said.

“It is vital that you have the names of reputable local companies and you get in touch with them as soon as possible after the storm,” Smith said, citing heartbreaking stories about families who have paid fraudulent contractors for restoration work and never had the work completed.

Insurance and financial protection

When preparing for a potential disaster, Allstate Insurance Company recommends several steps.

“Our agency owners have the local expertise and knowledge to work one-on-one with people to help them secure the proper insurance coverage they may need before a disaster strikes,” Allstate Spokesperson April Eaton said. “In fact, it’s a good idea to review insurance coverages at least once a year."

Eaton said consumers should look at the types of the disasters their area may be prone to, to determine if they have the proper coverage in place.

Consumers can protect themselves, their homes and businesses from damage during a disaster by taking specific loss prevention steps, including preparing family survival kits, fortifying homes against natural risks such as wildfire or wind, and creating a detailed home inventory, which can help expedite claims if a disaster occurs, she said.

“Preparation is a family’s best defense,” Eaton said. “Preparation should focus on four key activities, which the whole family can do together.” These activities include taking time to shop and put together an emergency kit, hitting the road and practicing an evacuation route out of town to a safe place, taking pictures of personal belongings and signing up for Allstate’s Alerts regarding potential disaster situations caused by severe weather.


A tornado warned cell in Laurie, Mo., on April 3, 2014. (Photo/AviWxChasers)

“A room-by-room inventory, as well as photographs or video of personal belongings can save a lot of headaches--or heartaches–-should a catastrophe strike,” Eaton said, recommending either a digital or old fashioned pen-and-paper approach.

Protecting irreplaceable property with sentimental value

Some items may never be able to be replaced after a disaster. McGee recommended taking preventative measures to protect personal possessions that hold sentimental value.

While some may want to get an appraisal for their vintage and antique valuables, he said storing valuable items in a safe room is always a good option.

“Anything you don’t want to lose to a storm--family heirlooms, photographs, important papers or anything irreplaceable--can be stored in the safe room,” McGee said.

For example, Smith said his wife will gather a few family photographs and precious personal items during a severe weather event and place them at the top of the basement stairs so that they can be easily retrieved if a tornado warning is issued. “This should be done at the tornado watch stage,” he said, adding that once the warning is issued, you can grab the items and make your way to shelter quickly.

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