Friday, October 11, 2013

Public tornado shelters - Not necessarily a good idea!

I understand perfectly why folks would favor public tornado shelters.  If there were public tornado shelters, then no one would have to struggle to weigh the cost of installing their own personal shelters with the low probability of ever being hit by the violent winds in a violent tornado.  The availability of public shelters completely removes that personal choice - and puts the financial burden on the whole community instead!

Public shelters have a number of issues that detract from their viability as a default solution for communities to protect themselves from the tornado hazard:

1.  When not being used to take shelter from a threatening storm, if they're wide open, then someone can use them to sell drugs, hide violent criminal activities (like rape and child molestation), or serve as a shelter for the homeless.
2.  If they're locked when not being used as a shelter, who decides when to open them and on what basis?  If the word of approaching tornado is not received soon enough, the doors would remain locked as people arrive.
3.  Are pets going to be allowed in or not?  In a case in Kansas some years back, a man was refused access because the shelter forbade pets and he refused to abandon his dog to the storm - and was later found dead.
4.  Are the shelters actually adequate for their proposed purpose?  Using public buildings, such as schools or churches, as shelters might only provide an illusion of security.
5.  How far must people go to reach their designated shelter?  If it's more than a walk of, say, 5 min, many people might want to drive to the shelter.  Is there parking enough for the capacity of the shelter?
6.  Is it really a good idea to leave a reasonably well-constructed frame home to travel to a public shelter?  Being caught in a vehicle or walking in the open can be disastrous. 
7.  Is this the best way a community can deal with the tornado hazard?  Is it the best way for a community to spend the resources ($$) it would cost to build many adequate shelters?
8.  Would every resident have access to a shelter?  Would it be acceptable to leave some segments of the population without any shelter access?

I'd like to repeat something here I've said elsewhere:  even if you have no purpose-built tornado shelter, your best choice remains sheltering 'in place' (in your home), following the guidelines of putting as many walls between you and the outside as possible, in an interior hallway, under a stair case, in a closet or bathroom (without exterior windows).  The often-repeated phrase by some media weathercasters, "You won't survive this tornado above ground!" is FALSE INFORMATION!  Even in an EF-5 tornado, by far the majority of people in the damage path will experience EF-3 or less damage.  You have a very good chance of surviving EF-3 damage in most ordinary homes.   And most people experiencing EF-4/5 damage still manage somehow to survive!  Do not become panicky and start driving away from your home, thereby contributing to gridlock and possibly being caught in your vehicle!

Public shelters make sense in mobile home parks - paid for by the park operator who would pass the costs on to the residents) provided there are enough of them to accommodate everyone needing a shelter and close enough together that people on foot can reach them quickly.   They also make sense in large venue recreational events, shopping malls, theaters, etc., assuming people know where they are, that the shelters are adequate, and people can reach them in time to be of value.  Presumably, businesses and organizations would have to come up with the cost of installing shelters if necessary, and pass on those costs to the occupants/users of those facilities.

But public shelters as a general solution for the widespread absence of tornado shelters (even here in central OK) isn't very practical.  I don't believe it makes sense for the communities to have to raise revenues to pay for shelters for all of their residents, and anything less than that would likely be unacceptable.  People need to make their own personal choices regarding whether or not to spend what it takes to install an adequate shelter for themselves and their loved ones, rather than being taxed to provide a dubious solution from the public coffers.

Although public shelters have their purposes and do have limited value, their challenges make it unlikely they can ever be a general solution for the entire populace.