The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2011 Joplin tornado

September 18, 2012

National Storm Shelter Association working to ensure industry standard

Hundreds of Joplin homeowners, many of whom survived the 2011 tornado, have made purchasing or building a storm shelter a priority.

But how do homeowners know their shelters will stand up to the kind of storm that rolled down on Joplin that Sunday afternoon — a storm that was strong enough to suck asphalt out of parking lots, shoot lumber through curbs and toss cars onto the roofs of buildings?

The fact is, states don’t regulate the storm shelter industry, said Karen Olsen, a member of the board of directors of the National Storm Shelter Association. Neither does the federal government.

Even if they did, many shelters are custom built on site by contractors as homes go up, and those can’t be taken to a lab and tested.

“There is no oversight in terms of what will keep you and your family safe, so it’s important that people take time to research and educate themselves on what they’re getting,” said Olsen, who also is president and owner of Missouri Storm Shelters, a 10-year-old company based in Nixa. They sell above-ground and in-ground concrete and steel shelters nationwide. They also have a Joplin office.

“It’s very important for people to know about testing, to know the difference in products,” Olsen added.

A 150 mph two-by-four

In order to become certified by the National Storm Shelter Association, a company must put its shelters through testing at the Institute for Disaster Research and the Wind Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In one test, a pneumatic cannon fires a 15-pound two-by-four at the shelter at 150 miles per hour.

Engineers also calculate — based on the size and shape of the shelter — how each would hold together in the winds produced by an EF-5 tornado.

Olsen’s company took its storm shelters to Texas for tests.

So did Neosho-based Twister Safe, owned by Enos Davis, who also has been selling his steel shelters in the Joplin area.

But builders who do on-site, custom shelter construction at a business, home or in the community have no means of doing such missile or wind tests because the rooms can’t be transported, noted John Snider, an engineering manager for Anderson Engineering in Joplin.

Those builders must instead rely on reports from Texas Tech that outline how specific building materials perform in laboratory conditions that simulate tornadoes, Snider said. Those results are contained in FEMA publications and reports by Texas Tech — reports with such titles as “Construction Materials Threshold Testing Report,” and “Debris Impact Testing Report.”

A FEMA review of safe rooms concluded that for on-site builders, concrete is one of the most preferred construction materials. Criteria for an 8-foot-by-8-foot custom-built safe room is wall thickness of six inches minimum, with No. 4 rebar every 12 inches.

Russel Gehrke is building his shelters on site for Joplin families as part of a project named EF Joplin. Snider is helping Gerhke ensure that the shelters meet specs outlined by FEMA and Texas Tech.

Three of the materials used in Gehrke’s safe rooms — concrete, rebar and steel — have been tested.

But Gehrke’s shelters also include T-shaped blocks built of a solid plastic composite for which a patent is pending. The thick plastic blocks are stacked and bound together with a rebar frame. The frame is backed by plywood. Concrete up to 10 inches thick then is poured over the rebar and between the plastic and the plywood.

A steel door and roof are bolted on.

The plastic blocks form the building’s exterior veneer.

“They are the shelter’s ‘bulletproof vest’,” said Gehrke.

Because the blocks are a new product, they have not yet been tested at Texas Tech.

But with a state technical assistance grant he received last year for the shelters, Gehrke hired Anderson Engineering of Joplin to inspect the shelters he already has built and to complete third-party verification of the shelter’s reliability and his use of FEMA-approved building materials and plans.

“Basically he’s following everything, he’s just using his own manufactured blocks,” said Snider.

He also confirmed that the materials Gehrke uses conform to and exceed FEMA guidelines for on-site shelter construction.

“Russ is using the standard set of plans from FEMA, and as long as you follow them they are approved for any shelter,” Snider said. “He’s using the right reinforcing steel, the right concrete, and all of those materials have been tested.”

Although not required, Snider said Anderson also conducted a breaking point test for the composite blocks Gehrke is using in his shelters.

For those tests, Anderson loaded cylinders of the composite block material into a concrete breaking machine. A hydraulic piston on one end squeezed the block, applying pressure that determines when the material breaks apart.

“We were amazed, because his material actually bends at a point when concrete usually breaks,” Snider said. That point usually is about 1,800 pounds per square inch.

“Amazingly, it had strength that was similar to concrete blocks. It was very close,” Snider said.

Gehrke wants to do his own missile test next, he said, and to that end is building a permanent feature on acreage owned by Cycle Connection, south of Joplin. It will enable users to feed in two-by-fours and shoot them as projectiles at a wall using his design and materials.

“He wants to do it right. When he does that, we’ll verify to make sure it’s the right two-by-four, the right length, the right weight, and there will be some kind of time-lapse photography or something to trigger and record a start and stopping point so we can calculate the velocity,” Snider said.

Text Only
May 2011 Joplin tornado
  • Local new-home construction catches up to previous pace

    After a slow start early in this fiscal year for Joplin, the construction of new houses has resumed at the pace that existed in fiscal year 2013, when permits for new houses averaged more than 16 per month. Since November, the beginning of Joplin’s fiscal year, permits for 118 houses have been issued for a total cost of $12.8 million. The average value has been about $108,000.

    June 11, 2014

  • 052212 unity walk1_72.jpg SLIDESHOW: One year later, One day of unity, updated Photos from a day of events commemorating the May 22, 2011 tornado anniversary

    May 22, 2012 1 Photo

  • 060314 Farmers rebuild 1_72.jpg Farmers Insurance writes manual based on experience from Joplin disaster recovery

    Joplin’s housing recovery from the 2011 tornado is one for the books. Jeff Dailey, CEO of Farmers Insurance, announced Tuesday that not only will Farmers Insurance stick with Rebuild Joplin to repair and replace the homes left on the local group’s waiting list, but the company also will kick off a similar recovery effort today for the city of Sea Bright, New Jersey, based on a book it has written to expedite disaster recovery that is based on its experience in Joplin.

    June 3, 2014 2 Photos

  • r052214butterflygarden.jpg New park feature opens on tornado anniversary to encourage healing

    Cunningham Park has become an emotional place for Pamela Praytor. The name of her son, Christopher Lucas, is engraved on a monument that stands in the park in memory of the 161 people who were killed in the May 2011 tornado. “Even though I cry when I come, it’s OK,” she said. “It’s part of the healing.”

    May 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • r051214greenbldgs3.jpg Home, business cited as examples of energy efficiency, strength

    Ramona and Charles “Hugh’’ Shields were not the least bit reluctant on Monday to open their new house in the tornado zone to a bunch of strangers who had a lot of questions. “I used to live in a house where I had to wear two pairs of socks in the winter to keep my feet warm — not anymore,’’ said Ramona Shields. “This house is nice and warm in the winter, and nice and cool in the summer.’’

    May 12, 2014 2 Photos

  • Mercy Health System to receive $23 million FEMA grant

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide Mercy Health System of Joplin with $23 million in public assistance funding by the end of the year. The disaster relief was announced Friday by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

    April 25, 2014

  • Respond With Love flower.jpg Joplin pays it forward with flowers; residents asked to return bulbs ‘fostered’ for other towns

    Suzan Morang’s front yard bloomed brightly last year from a colorful array of bulbs that she will happily pass on to someone else this year. Morang, 1207 Xenia Court, is a participant in America Responds With Love, a national nonprofit organization that distributes bulbs to disaster-stricken cities.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Creator of Joplin-based ‘Dear World’ exhibit features Boston bombing victims in new work

    The messages written on the skin of some Boston Marathon victims may be different, but Joplin residents will recognize the handwriting. Robert X. Fogarty, the creator of the “Dear World: From Joplin with Love” exhibit, took his signature style of photography and inspiration to Boston. Fogarty traveled to Joplin in 2011 and took pictures of community members with inspirational messages written on their bodies in black ink.

    April 21, 2014

  • r041414wildwood.jpg Opening of nursing home another recovery milestone

    Gladys Dutton has done a lot of things in her life, but Monday’s dedication of the Communities at Wildwood Ranch nursing home marked a first. “I’ve never cut a ribbon before,” she said. “I hope I do a good job.” Dutton was one of four residents to participate in the opening of the $8.5 million nursing center that eventually will be home to 120 people.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Joplin Redevelopment Corp. preparing for first property sale

    The first sale of property from the Joplin Redevelopment Corp. to Wallace Bajjali Development Partners is scheduled for May 16. The city staff will be working to prepare for that sale, it was discussed on Tuesday at a meeting of the JRC.

    April 9, 2014

Purchase Globe Photos

Featured Ads
Tornado: Multimedia coverage
Tornado: Obituaries
Tornado: Columns
Tornado: Mike Pound
Tornado: Lists of missing, fatalities & relief
Tornado: Donate & volunteer
Tornado: Resources & relief