Understanding Storm Shelters Could Save Oklahomans' Lives

Thursday, May 7th 2015, 11:16 pm
By: News On 6

An Oklahoma City woman drowned after being trapped in her storm shelter Wednesday.

The state continues to get a record amount of rainfall that caused storm shelters to flood - one even floated up out of the ground.

Special Coverage: May 6 Tornadoes

One of the leaders of the storm shelter industry said that shouldn't happen. Allison?

Storm shelters cost thousands of dollars and are meant to protect you during a tornado, but could they kill you in a flood?

Industry leaders said it's important to know what type of shelter is best for your property - an above-ground safe room, or an in-ground shelter.

Oklahoma City police said a woman drowned inside her underground storm cellar as a river of floodwater went through the property, and she was trapped.

5/7/2015 Related Story: Family, Neighbors Devastated To Learn Woman Drowned In Storm Cellar

The same storms pulled a year-old shelter out of a backyard in Noble, southeast of Oklahoma City.

David Gentry with American Safety Shelter said storm shelters don't flood often, but he wouldn't put an in-ground cellar in a floodzone.

"We don't want anybody's safe filling up with water," he said. "Whenever we look at an install, and there's an issue with flooding in the past, we recommend an above-ground type of a product."

He also wouldn't pack soil around a shelter.

The products are buoyant, and Gentry said they should be cemented and chained down.

"We concrete all the way around the safe and then we taper the edges so the water will flow away from that," Gentry explained.

The director of the National Storm Shelter Association said flooding in shelters is a "design deficiency," and there are pros and cons to above- and below-ground shelters.

5/7/2015 Related Story: Center Of ‘Tornado Alley' Shifting To Green County, Research Shows

Bryan Appleby's shelter is under his garage.

"We're not in a floodzone, so we considered being below ground being a better option that being above ground. It's a lot more safe with any debris flying through the air," he said.

Industry leaders suggest researching a shelter before installing, and knowing how it's installed.

"If you know that you're in a floodzone, if you have an elderly that don't want to walk down these steps in an emergency,” Gentry said, “you don't want to have them in this type of a shelter. That's when the above ground is really a practical solution."

Storm shelter industry leaders suggest knowing how the products are tested before buying.

Texas Tech wind engineers test some shelters in wind tunnels, and some manufacturers belong to a professional organization - the National Association of Storm Shelters.