South Dakota residents urged to build safe rooms

South Dakota residents urged to build safe rooms In the wake of the deadly tornadoes that struck Oklahoma and Kansas on May 3, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are once again urging residents of tornado-prone areas to construct a "safe room" in their home.

A safe room is essentially a roomy closet built to withstand extreme wind hazards such as tornadoes. A safe room can be constructed either above or below ground with either reinforced concrete or wood-and-steel walls anchored to a concrete slab foundation or floor.

"Last May, residents of Spencer, South Dakota experienced first-hand the devastating power of a tornado, as a twister moved through the area leveling most of the town's buildings. Six people were killed and more than 150 were injured in the storm," said Rick Weiland, regional director for the FEMA Region VIII in Denver.

Although their neighborhood was destroyed, Norma Bartlett survived the recent Oklahoma tornado with her daughter and four pets in a safe room built from guidelines provided by FEMA. In a 25-page illustrated booklet titled, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House, FEMA outlines the basics of in-house safe rooms built to these design specifications provide protection from the impact of flying debris and winds of up to 250 miles per hour. Construction costs typically range from $2,000 to $4,000, depending upon the specific design, materials and typical construction costs in your community.

"Taking the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family before a tornado strikes just makes good sense," Weiland said. "I am absolutely convinced that if more people in Oklahoma, Kansas and Spencer had access to a safe room, fewer lives would have been lost."

The complete Taking Shelter from the Storm booklet can be ordered at no cost from FEMA Publications at 1-800-480-2520. The publication without the construction plans can also be downloaded from the FEMA Web site at


FEMA remains committed to encouraging individuals and communities to act before a disaster strikes. Taking Shelter from the Storm was developed by FEMA in collaboration with the Wind Engineering Research Center of Texas Tech University. The safe room designs draw on 25 years of field research as well as laboratory testing. The safe room project is part of an ongoing FEMA initiative called Project Impact, Building Disaster Resistant Communities.

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