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.

1
Text Only
May 2011 Joplin tornado
  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Issues prompt pair to seek help from city; allocations approved for repairs in tornado zone

    Two people spoke to the Joplin City Council on Monday night about issues they would like the city government to address. Elizabeth Clement, a Neosho resident who works in Joplin, asked the city to operate more surveillance in parking lots because of the number of cars stolen. She said her car was stolen from the parking lot at Northpark Mall and used in robberies.

    April 7, 2014

  • National institute releases final report on Joplin tornado

    The National Institute of Standards and Technology on Friday released a final report into the technical investigation of the May 22, 2011, tornado that struck Joplin — the deadliest tornado in the United States in the 64 years that official records have been kept.

    March 28, 2014

  • r031814tornadofunds2.jpg Local tornado fund board cites appreciation, accomplishments

    The 991 donations ranged from $1 to $119,000. They came from all over the world. On Tuesday, the managers of the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund gave an accounting of how those donations, which totaled about $995,950 with interest, were given in 41 grants, recipients of which included 27 local agencies.

    March 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Dan Riddell 0604013.jpg Farmers Insurance extends tornado recovery commitment

    After investments that included stationing a company executive in Joplin for eight months last year, officials with Farmers Insurance said the company will continue its post-tornado commitment to Joplin in 2014. “We’re going to stay until the end,” said Doris Dunn, director of community relations for the company, on Wednesday. “That includes sending in another 100-plus volunteers and making some additional financial investments.”

    February 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • r021714rescuedog.jpg Author prepares for release of children’s book featuring heroic Joplin rescue dog

    Carolyn Mueller is both a dog lover and a storyteller. So when she got the opportunity to write a story about a Joplin dog named Lily who helped search for survivors after the May 2011 tornado, she jumped on it. “Dogs like Lily can be heroes, too,” she said.

    February 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • VIDEO: Lost photos claim day to be held at museum

    National Disaster Photo Rescue and the Joplin Museum Complex have scheduled a public viewing and photo claim day for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, at the museum complex in Schifferdecker Park. The project, originally known as Lost Photos of Joplin, was organized in the weeks after the May 22, 2011, Joplin tornado to reunite storm victims with photos displaced by the storm.

    February 4, 2014

  • Building-permit total since tornado nears $1 billion

    The building of new homes in Joplin continues at an average pace of 16 to 18 per month, according to a building permit report released for December by the city of Joplin. Eighteen building permits for new homes were issued in both November and December. In fiscal year 2013, permits for new homes averaged more than 16 per month.

    January 31, 2014

Purchase Globe Photos


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