After witnessing the extreme devastation that tornadoes cause, many families choose to be proactive in tornado safety, with emergency plans and storm shelters. Tornado shelters are the only way to guarantee safety for you and your family, but what if a tornado strikes during the workday while you are at your place of business? If you own a business, making sure that your employees are safe from a natural disaster is your responsibility. This article will give you vital information on how you can keep your business safe from tornadoes.

The statistics on tornadoes are eye-opening.

With 1,200 tornadoes occurring each year, the United States boasts more tornadoes than any other country. Tornadoes have been documented in every state, but the highest risk of tornadoes are in the areas of the Great Plains, the southern United States, the Midwest and the Mississippi Valley. Annually, tornadoes cause 89 deaths on average, and over 1,500 injuries, with EF4 and EF5 level tornadoes accounting for 70% of tornado related deaths. In a storm lasting only an hour, an EF5 tornado has the capability of creating more energy than 10 to 100 Hiroshima type disasters.

The majority of tornadoes happen between late afternoon or evening, which is exactly the time that most people are at work or on their evening commute.

For most people, it is not possible to stay home on days when there is the threat of severe weather. This leaves many people vulnerable to danger, if a twister were to occur. Tornadoes often hit with little warning, and are extremely unpredictable, meaning it is tremendously unsafe to attempt to outrun a tornado.

To ensure the safety of not only you, but your co-workers and employees as well, the best option is to have a storm shelter at your place of business. If you are the business owner, you have a couple of different options on how to incorporate a storm shelter.

An internal shelter is built during the construction of your business, whereas a stand-alone shelter may be built at any time. If you rent the building or land that your business is on, you might have to have a discussion with the owner of the property as to what type of shelter they will allow.

It is imperative to have your storm shelter built by a professional, as there are many requirements to building a storm shelter, and each part needs to be done correctly and in accordance to FEMA standards. Safe rooms that will be used by more than 16 people are considered to be “community safe rooms” and need to meet additional requirements regarding sanitation, ventilation and fire separation. The guidelines set by FEMA state there needs to be 5 square feet per person.

Internal shelters have the option to be single or multi-use structures. Multi-use shelters can serve another purpose as well as being a storm shelter, they can be used as hallways, meeting rooms, gymnasiums, libraries, cafeterias or even restrooms. Although single-use shelters are used as storm shelters only, both options come with their own benefits. Stand-alone shelters have mechanical and electrical systems that may be readily approved by a local building official or fire marshal, and have more simplified designs. Multi-use shelters can lower the cost of a shelter, since the room can serve other purposes and is an efficient use of space.

If you are an employee, have a discussion with your employer about the benefits a storm shelter can bring to the workplace, and how important it is for employee safety. As the business owner, safe rooms can seem pricey, but the cost actually depends on the size and shape. A storm shelter professional will be happy to discuss your options and help you decide what storm shelter would work best for you. If installing a storm shelter at your place of business is not possible, there are still important preventative measures you can take for your safety.

The first step of any disaster precaution is to make a plan. Have a discussion with your workplace on what the procedure will be if disaster strikes. If your workplace has a shelter, talk about how to ensure everyone makes it into the storm shelter safely. For businesses without shelters, figure out where the closest community shelter is in your area and how to get there. Also, decide at what point the business should close in the event of severe weather. Remember, keeping people safe from these devastating storms should always be top priority!

If your place of business has or will have a storm shelter, it is very important to ensure that the shelter is stocked with necessary supplies. In the event of a severe tornado, it could take hours or even days for help to reach you if you were to become trapped. It’s recommended to have about 3 days worth of essential items such as water (FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person per day), non-perishable food and sanitary items, as well as a flashlight, a battery powered radio, a first aid kit and extra batteries. Other helpful items include blankets, dust masks, goggles, mess kits and a whistle. An entire list of items to keep in any emergency kit or storm shelter can be found on www.ready.gov/build-a-kit.

Tornadoes bring a path of destruction, and it is imperative to make sure that you and your employees are kept safe. Speak to your employer or property owner about what options you have, and if you are a business owner, think of the steps you need to take. When it comes to building a storm shelter, the benefits far outweigh the cost and are worth having in the case of disaster.

 

You can find additional information on shelters for small businesses, homes and community shelters here:

Shelters for small businesses and homes www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/2009

Community shelters www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/5090

Disaster preparation www.ready.gov

 

by Sierra Waldrop