Storm Week 2010: Storm Safety and Storm Shelters

Early warning can make all the difference in the world, but you can't always count on it. A warning may not come, a siren may malfunction. You should remain alert and ready to take action immediately. Here are some tips that can better prepare you for severe weather.

The safest place to be is underground in a storm cellar or basement, however if you don't have one of those, then there are other safe places to get to.

Most injuries from tornadoes occur from flying debris and glass can be particularly dangerous, so stay away from windows.

Remember, the number one tornado safety rule, put as many walls between you and the tornado as possible. So if you are at home, one of the safest places to be would be in the hallway or interior closet. Another safe place would be your bathroom, and remember, always protect your head by covering up with blankets, pillows or even mattresses. If there's no time to get to an interior room, then get under a sturdy piece of furniture.

If your caught outside or in your car, them find a ditch or low spot, kneel down and cover your head. Never try to outrun a tornado.

If you live in a mobile home or trailer and there's enough time, leave and go to a more substantial structure. If there's no time, then go outside and kneel down in a ditch or low spot. Believe it or not but a ditch is safer than staying in a mobile home.

Now lets take a closer look at the safest place to be if severe weather strikes, a storm shelter.

Texas Tech University houses the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center with the only doctoral program in the country.Tornado research has been a top priority at the Wise Center since its formation in 1970. Special attention is paid to making quality storm shelters and improving existing ones. Dr. Ernest Kiesling, a professor at the Wise Center and Executive Director of NSSA, noticed certain materials in a house were more resistant to wind damage than others.

"What we often observe in the field is even when a house was totally destroyed or heavily damaged, some small part of that house was still standing and would've provided some protection," said Dr. Kiesling.

Improving the entire structure of a house can be costly. After a series of tornadoes devastated homes and schools in Oklahoma in 1999, Dr. Kiesling noticed the storm shelters used were simply inadequate when it came to protection, even the shelters that carried an engineer's seal on them.

"So we asked 'what can we do about this problem to ensure quality?' That called a group of the more conscientious producers together and they formed the National Storm Shelter Association," said Dr. Kiesling.

The NSSA works with the Wise Center to research ways to increase the quality of a storm shelter. There are three aspects of a storm shelter that are tested by the NSSA: wind pressure, debris impact, and ventilation.

Wind pressure is tested through a wind tunnel at the Reese Technology Center at Texas Tech. When testing the impact of debris, engineers use a pneumatic cannon to launch two-by-fours at speeds up to 100 miles per hour at a wall made of storm shelter materials. Finally, ventilation ducts are installed to help balance air pressure inside the shelter as well as provide fresh air for those inside.

Storm shelters come in all shapes and sizes, some are above ground while others are built below. While both types are tested to be just as effective, local producers say the biggest difference may be in the cost.

"Digging a hole and placing a galvanized box below ground and pouring just two yards of concrete around it is gonna be less expensive," said Tornado Flatsafe Representative Jeff Wachsman.

When it comes to quality, Dr. Kiesling says the NSSA seal has earned itself a reputation of excellence and buyers should seek shelters that bear the NSSA seal. Local producers also notice consumers feel safer with the seal.

"If it's got the Texas Tech and NSSA, it's a good shelter," said Wachsman.