A Long Overdue Safe Room

When we moved to Ten-Acre Ranch nearly nine years ago, we knew we would eventually have to put in some kind of storm shelter. I was not overly concerned at the time; we had so many upstart expenses and repairs to be made that we just did not feel we could afford such a purchase. But as the years and near-miss tornadoes rolled along, we realized we did not feel comfortable without a safe place to take shelter in storms. Last year in May, I was entertaining a couple who had come by to check on our hummingbird population. We also managed to spot Daisy deer in the woods while they were here. Caught up in conversation about tracking hummingbirds and discovering nests, and then spending a little time with Daisy, we had not paid attention to the volatile weather moving in until rain drops began to pelt down. Hurrying up the slope as the rain became heavier, we reached the back porch just in time to hear a few claps of thunder, and then the tornado sirens going off – alerting the town to take cover! Having nowhere to go, we all laughingly decided we were each prepared to weather whatever nature brought our way. Fortunately, the “all clear” siren blew a short time later. That evening, I heard a small tornado had hit ground just south of town and roped back up fairly quickly. This had not been our only close call over the years, but it did drive home that, even though I did not fear so much for FD and myself, I was concerned about folks who might be visiting, and felt responsible to have a place of shelter available.

Of course, with the storm season in the past, I promptly forgot about a shelter until I went to the Oklahoma State Fair last September and noticed some safe rooms on display. FD and I already knew we wanted an external, above-ground safe room. Anything in ground was not an option as our soil is mostly sand and clay, and during torrential rain, drainage is an issue. We also heard from too many handicapped and elderly people that it could be quite difficult to get down in a shelter with steep steps, and often climbing back out was near impossible without some assistance. Now in our mid-fifties, we knew we wanted a shelter to be easily accessible for all ages and handicaps. With no room in our home to build an indoor safe room,  we needed some type of structure that could be located in our backyard, near the house, and easily accessible. The outdoor, above-ground safe rooms on display at the state fair, offered by Area Septic Services, Inc., represented just what we were looking for!

When we finally managed to get financing together early this spring for the safe room, there was quite a waiting list for production of these shelters. May 2016 came and went, producing large amounts of rainfall, along with the usual tornadoes and threats of severe weather, which did not help delivery of our new safe room. Finally, in early June, despite getting more than an inch of rain the week before, we opted to go ahead with our scheduled date of delivery. The ground would still be a bit soft but we would just have to deal with ruts made by the truck bringing in the twenty-one thousand pound structure. In preparation for the shelter’s delivery, we spent the prior week trimming trees so that nothing would interfere with the setup process.

Safe Room Shelter_5800

Just on the right side of the image, Emma deer lays quietly watching the activity.
Just on the left side of the image, Emma deer lays quietly in the deer pen, watching the activity.
Emma is not disturbed by the big truck.
Emma is not disturbed by the big truck.
View from Emma's deer pen.
View from Emma’s deer pen.

As luck would have it and, as they say, “The best laid plans of mice and men go awry”. The path we cleared ended up not being the path onto our property that the setup man chose, and for a good reason – the truck crane could not bring the structure up and over the privacy fence from the angle FD and I had planned. The truck had to be backed into a narrow area between the house and a huge elm tree – one we had contemplated cutting down long ago, but left in place because Daisy deer loves to nibble leaves from its low-hanging branches. Fortunately, we had trimmed a few of the limbs that protruded towards the house, leaving just barely enough space to back the big rig up to the fence. Another fortunate thing, was that the truck driver was not only very professional and polite, he was also quite skilled at his job and able to avoid driving directly over our water lines next to the house.

This man did all of the installation work by himself. I marveled at how quickly the whole process went. Before leaving, our installer left us with a couple of warnings – Do no use the shelter as a storage building because, when an emergency occurs, there often is not enough time to clear out a lot of junk. He advised keeping only necessary, emergency and survival items in the storm shelter. And, he warned, do not let children go in and out of the structure lest they somehow manage to lock themselves inside. Once bolted shut from the inside, a panicked child cannot figure out how to release the spring latches that hold the bolts in place, leaving cutting the door open as the only option for rescue.

Safe Room Anchor Bolts_5815

Safe Room Anchor Process_5818
On each side of the shelter, three metal anchors were screwed into the ground with the mechanical driver.

And long after the man left in his rig, I discovered a third bit of advice, or rather, a warning about how NOT to shut the heavy door. Not only would you never want to smash your fingers or hand in the door itself, but the latch has a tricky little space between the handle and the stop where one might put a lock or a carabiner to keep the door secure (off-season or when children are around), as I found out the hard way. When my mom-in-law brought over a dozen fresh eggs that afternoon, I proudly showed her our new purchase. As I closed the door,  I pinched my fingers between the two small holes in the latch. Quickly, I tried to  pull free but the handle would not release my fingers! Reacting to my pain, I dropped the egg carton and opened the door with my free hand, releasing my pinched fingers. At this, I heard my mom-in-law scream, “Oh NO!!!!” and I quickly assured her that I was fine, despite the excruciating pain I felt from the pinch! But, in turning my attention to her, I realized she was not concerned with my hand at all. Instead, she was on the ground with the egg carton cradled in her hands, lamenting that I had broken four of those precious eggs! You would just have to know my mother-in-law to fully appreciate the moment. Those eggs might as well have been made of fine crystal! Oh well, I am sure she is really happy that we now have a safe place to shelter from a storm – as long as it does not come at breakfast time and cause us to drop and break one of her beautiful, farm-fresh eggs in our haste… 😉

Latch in Closed position.
Latch in Closed position.
The area between the holes is where I pinched my fingers in the latch!
The area between the holes is where I pinched my finger in the latch!
The week following installation, FD got the tractor out and patched up the ruts in the yard.
The week following installation, FD got the tractor out and patched up the ruts in the yard.

© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…

 


22 thoughts on “A Long Overdue Safe Room

  1. I’m so glad that you and FD now have a safe place. Wish that I had one. Must make this short. I have little energy since my almost 88 old sis had slight stroke last week and takes lots of my time. She was in hospital for 7 days and now in nursing home that has rehab.

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    1. My goodness, Yvonne. You just can’t catch a break, can you? I so wished I lived near you… I’d be pitching in where I could to help out. I’m not sure how you manage. I’ll be sending prayer and positive energy your way… please, take care of yourself.

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    1. Yes, even in other parts of the world we see crazy weather. We are in what they call “tornado alley” where it is common to experience them in the spring time. Usually April through early June is the season for severe weather, though it can happen even through the autumn months.

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    1. That’s an interesting thought! I am not sure I could get Emma and Ronnie in the safe room at this point. Being a flight animal, I’m not sure we could keep them stable in there. Likely we would have to free them from their pen and let them free. I’ll have to give that some thought. Thank you for mentioning it! 🙂

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  2. Ouch! Oh, I do hope your fingers weren’t too badly mashed. I mashed my thumb in a car door one time when I was little and couldn’t get the darned door open! My Dad reached across from the driver’s seat and gave it a hard pull and got it opened. Very painful. I feel better knowing you have a safe place now. I worry about you every time we hear of tornadoes across the midwest. xx

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    1. Ardys, my fingers were just fine, other than that short time they were being pinched. I reacted quickly… and I don’t even remember having those eggs in my hands. That’s how painful it was – I completely focused on my situation! ha ha! Usually a car door slam on the fingers can do some damage. I can’t say I have ever had that experience but I have hammered my index fingers and thumbs a few times! 😀

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        1. Mandeep… thank you for attempting to make me feel better, but the truth is, I am low on the totem pole here. Now if it was FD who was in pain she would have moved mountains to help him!! ha ha! It’s ok. I’m a big girl and I managed to get myself out of a “pinch” and walked away victorious! There is no door going to get me down on my knees for long! 😀

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  3. What an excellent invention! I remember growing up in Iowa and running to the basement a half dozen times in the summer. I always feared the house would fall and we would be trapped below it. A safe room is a good solution for that. But I’m sure they are quite expensive and they probably take up a lot of room if you live in town. Your mother-in-law sounds like my mother – she would have worried about wasting good eggs. Karen

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    1. I grew up in Nebraska, and like you, nearly everyone had a basement to take shelter in. This unit doesn’t take up a lot of space. I haven’t measured the outside but the inside is 6×8 and is roomy enough for 6 people comfortably (well, at least for a short period of time!). The price was a little over 6K, but that was less than a couple of other companies offering the same type of shelter. There are all sorts of shelters available now in all price ranges.

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    1. The specifications are as follows: Vertically reinforced 3/16 steel powder coated door with triple latch system
      Door tested at Texas Tech University (in these parts TTU are the experts on tornado-safe doors)
      1/2″ rebar on 10″ centers
      6000 PSI reinforced pre-cast concrete
      Handicap accessible
      Meets or exceeds FEMA (Federal Emergengy Standard Agency) Standards for inside saferoom and outside above ground storm shelter
      Anchored down with four 3″ metal anchors
      We were told the unit weighs 21,000 pounds or approximately 9.5 metric tons
      This particular safe room is the 6×8 (inside measurements), or 1.8 x 2.4 meters approximately

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  4. Having lived in MInnesota my entire life, in a state with basements, I’ve always had a safe place to go during a storm. My concern has usually been which part of the basement is safest. Away from windows is always the advice.

    I wondered about this safe house, how it could withstand the fierce power of a tornado. So I clicked on the website link to read about its construction. This shelter should keep you safe. I hope you never have to use it. I like the Psalm quoted on the website.

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    1. Yes, I saw that quote too, and I have to say the lady I visited with at the fair was informational and not pushy. We also priced a couple of other places that offered this type of construction, but their exteriors were not nearly as nice looking and the prices were higher. I felt these folks offered a fair price, which was a little more than 6K.

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  5. Having that sturdy structure must give you a great deal of peace of mind. Loved seeing the video of the installation too. I’ve been nervous since moving here to the flatlands of northwest Ohio since my house doesn’t have a basement either. I suppose if a tornado comes through here I’ll go in the bathroom or the small utility room, but neither of them feels very safe. I’ve wondered if I might be smarter to go in the crawlspace below the house and hang on to one of the beams down there…but I sure hope I never have to do that!

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    1. Hi Kim! I was used to having a basement in Nebraska, but due to the soil being sandy and a lot of sand rock here, basements do not fare well in Oklahoma. There are a lot of great options, even small pods that are quick and easy for say, two people to dash into. For nine years now, like you, I just hoped for the best, but in the last five years two tornadoes hit this town. That was a little too close for comfort!

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