Last Updated: July 28, 2016 On April 2, 2012 two tornadoes struck down south of Dallas, Texas. Green Bay, Wisconsin based Schneider National trucking company hub in Dallas was squarely hit by one of the tornadoes, and television cameras memorably caught the tornado's bright orange semi-trailers being launched into the air. Each of these trailers typically weigh in excess of 10,000 pounds and measure 8-feet wide by 53-feet long. These flying missiles represented a serious risk to the health and safety of the 65 office and maintenance workers as well any of the 200-300 daily professional drivers who might have been transiting through the facility at the time of the tornado.
Just a year prior to the Dallas tornadoes, the South and Midwest were raked by more than 350 violent tornadoes.
Fox News Atlanta reported, “At the time, Kia Motors had been in operation for only a couple of years in West Point, Georgia. Their manufacturing plant sits about six miles away from the Alabama state line—and less than 20 miles from where three of the violent twisters hit. Randy Jackson, Kia's Vice President of Human Resources says that because of that experience, he knows that that tornadoes can hit this area. And as part of the auto industry, he says the company already places a premium on safety, but he knew that this was an opportunity to take their safety measures to the next level.” The environmental safety & health (ES&H) literature has been relatively silent on the topic of tornado shelters. It just apparently hasn't been on their radar.According to Matt Williams, a member of the board of directors of the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) and an executive for a company that manufactures tornado shelters, “We have been reaching out to various publications and thought leaders in the ES&H industry, but there seems to be a lack of context for starting a conversation on the important and necessary role of tornado shelters in ES&H plan.” Despite the lack of guidance in the trade press, some companies are moving forward with tornado sheltering plans using existing guidance promulgated by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). According to FEMA, “FEMA P-361 – Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms was first published by FEMA in 2000 to present design, construction, and operation criteria for community safe rooms that will provide near-absolute life safety protection during tornado and hurricane events. It provides guidance for architects, engineers, building officials, local officials and emergency managers, and prospective safe room owners and operators about the design, construction, and operation of community safe rooms in extreme-wind events.”Also according to FEMA, “Using the initial FEMA publications as a pre-standard, design and construction professionals led by international Code Council® (ICC®) and the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) have joined forces to produce the first ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC-500).” Community Storm Shelters have proliferated in Alabama and other neighboring states over the last few years, with the lion's share of those shelters deployed in rural, lower-income areas and funded through FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) grants. These grants, though, are generally not available to private industry, leaving businesses to largely fend for themselves.Some businesses, though, like Fruit of the Earth—the world's largest producer of Aloe Vera juice and sunscreen products, with three facilities within a mile of each other in Fort Worth and Grand Prairie, Texas—have taken matters into their own hands and simply installed shelters in or around their facilities. Fruit of the Earth's management team was concerned about the risk posed by severe weather in the Dallas/Fort Worth market after a number of close calls, and they decided several months ago to invest in three shelters to protect their 200-plus employees.
According to Fox News Atlanta, Kia Motors arrived at the same conclusion and installed fourteen one hundred person prefabricated underground steel storm shelters in the fall and winter of 2013-2014. “We have to make sure that our team members are safe and that they feel comfortable,” Jackson said. The shelters were placed strategically around their facility, with only the black doors laying parallel with the ground visible. Aesthetics were an important consideration for Kia. Installing above ground rolled-round roof shelters, while an increasingly common site in the Southeast U.S., was not an option for the growing auto company.
Hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes, mobile home parks, and apartment complexes have also been struggling with the challenge of how to protect the inhabitants of their structures from tornadoes and other severe wind events. It appears that larger, more profitable companies have begun conducting risk assessments in which the relatively modest cost of protecting their employees is offset by the probable legal, financial, and public relations fallout that would likely accompany a tornado event such as the storms that ravaged central Oklahoma in May of 2013. The reality is that the tort bar would pursue recoveries from large, profitable companies, and this risk is manageable at a relatively low cost to the company. Kia Motors and other companies that are leading the way may also benefit from double and triple bottom line benefits as they are able to couch their storm preparedness as both an employee benefit and a reflection of their stance on environmental safety and health while capturing favorable earned media. In fact, in some cases, this earned media may largely offset the actual investment in storm sheltering facilities. ~G. Grant Gatschet, II~
About the author: G. Grant Gatschet, II holds an MBA from Case Western Reserve University and an independent management consultant with a background in disaster preparedness, grant writing and administration, and public/private partnerships.
If your company or community would like to know more about how Survive-a-Storm Shelters can protect your people, give us a call at 888-360-1492 and speak with our community safe room consultant.