Another Call for Safe Rooms and Mitigation

Shortly after the tornadoes in Moore, media from all over the nation, as well as many professional associations, are adamant in their call for some mitigative measures so that the repetitive losses of life and property are reduced.  Since the means to do so are known, what is needed is the political will– something lacking so far in OK  None of us wants to watch while children are trapped in their schools and people buried in their homes, if it can be avoided.

From the Post Gazette (Pitsburgh), an editorial of interest: After the Storm; Safe Rooms Need to be mandated in Perilous Places. A few excepts follow; my favorites are highlighted in red:

As always in times of disaster, the humanitarian response of the American people was heart-warming. But the heart must now heed the head. There are obvious lessons that need to be taken if the wells of sympathy are not to be depleted.

Some 24 people were killed by the tornado, including seven 8- and 9-year-old students at Moore’s Plaza Elementary School — a school that had no safe room, just as most of the 1,200 homes damaged and destroyed did not. That is stupid to the point of scandalous. Oklahoma is situated in Tornado Alley and people are accustomed to the danger. According to the National Weather Service, Moore and its environs have seen at least 22 tornadoes killing more than 100 people since 1893.

The state is conservative and fear of overreaching government power is part of the culture. That’s fine as far as it goes, but it goes only as far as it affects other Americans whose tax dollars go to help places like Moore recover.

It rankles that Oklahoma’s U.S. senators, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, have voted against federal funding for other disaster relief, including for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Yes, they had their reasons — concerns for wasteful federal spending and deficits — but a day of reckoning comes for ingrate behavior. In Moore, it came in a terrifying funnel cloud.

Political ideology should have been blown away in this storm. State and local governments in areas at risk should insist on safe rooms, at least in all new construction. The cost might be high, but so is the cost of repetitive tragedy. It is said that God helps those who help themselves; federal aid ought to be predicated on it.

7 thoughts on “Another Call for Safe Rooms and Mitigation

  1. Regarding the cost-effectiveness of shelters, Sutter and Simmons (2006 and 2012-with Pielke) have examined the cost-benefit analyses of tornado shelters. They continue to conclude, based on current trends, that even in tornado-prone states,government funding for shelters in permanent homes is not-cost-effective at a cost of about $40 million per life saved, but that the benefits of tornado-resistant building techniques may be cost-effective.

    For residents of mobile homes, which normally account for the majority of tornado fatalities, funding of shelters in tornado-prone locations would be cost-effective at a cost of around $4 million per life saved, and would be the better option on which to target public policy.

    They have not to my knowledge looked at the cost-effectiveness of school shelters.

    The cost-effectiveness could change in the future with changes in the frequency of EF4+ tornadoes and increases in population density in tornado-prone areas.

    Unfortunately, even a mobile home shelter law will unlikely succeed in Oklahoma. They have tried unsuccessfully several times over the past 2-3 years to pass a law that would require mobile home parks to have tornado shelters. The US Manufactured Homes Institute continues to lobby that mobile/manufactured homes are no more or less dangerous than conventional housing.

    Regarding the question of fires, I think the advice to install fire sprinklers instead of tornado shelters is somewhat misleading. Majority of fires are the result of preventable causes, and thus one can take steps to substantially reduce the risk of fire in the first place. Also, about half of all house fires are contained to the room of origin, resulting in an average damage cost of $180 per fire for these contained fires. Tornadoes, on the other hand, cannot be prevented and there are no actions anyone can take to prevent a tornado from striking their home. It is simply a matter of chance…..and I don’t know anyone that would have bet in 1999 that Moore, OK would be hit by two EF5 and two EF3 tornadoes in the coming 14 years.

    The only protective options someone has under his/her control is to move; to try to build a stronger house; and/or to have a shelter to protect themselves and their family. I don;t think most people would anquish over their failure to have sprinklers installed in their house as much as they would their failure to prevent the cause of the fire. After the next EF3+ in the Moore area, I think that anyone who loses loved ones because they did not have a safe room or shelter will anguish over their choice.

    If I were going to have any safety advice for residents of my own area of North Texas it would be to tell them that there is no reason you have to choose one or the other…if you want to really feel safe, get a sprinkler system and a shelter.

  2. This morning I caught only part of a comment. “Federal disaster relief funding is costing $1100 per taxpayer.” Did anyone hear over what period of time – this year, or something else?

  3. Another uneducated editorial writer… “Scandalous”? My guess is that author never saw a Hazard Vulnerability Assessment in his life. Even in Oklahoma, tornadoes rank incredibly low on the death risk scale. Mandating millions of dollars go towards that threat is the true scandal.

      • Dr Tom – if you’re referring to hazards in general I agree. If you are saying that safe rooms reduce recovery costs, and therefore should be mandated, I don’t follow.

        My point is that house fires kill FAR more than tornadoes, even in Oklahoma. For the same price as a safe room, you reduce your risk of death with the installation of a sprinkler system. You also turn a potentially $350K total loss to a $3500 carpet replacement.

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