Strengthening mobile homes
Mortality rates for people struck in mobile homes account for approximately half of all deaths by tornadoes. After a tornado killed 18 people in an Evansville, Indiana, mobile home park, the state passed a first-of-its-kind law requiring that these manufactured homes come equipped with weather radios and alarms. Supporters claim that radios are equivalent to smoke detectors. But opponents argue that a smoke detector warns of a more specific risk: “How would you like it,” one critic asked, “if your fire detector went off whenever there was a fire in your county?”
Building stronger homes
Tornadoes and thunderstorms cost insurers $10.5 billion last year. Several major companies now offer reduced premiums for homes that offer better protection. Carl Schneider, an insurance agent in Mobile, Alabama, lives in a home made of reinforced concrete with steel framing and says he’s on a mission to get others to build smarter. “In the past, insurance companies didn’t provide an incentive for people to build resistant homes, because they didn’t recognize differences in construction type.” What’s key, says Larry J. Tanner, of the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University, is to make sure your house is bolted, not just nailed, to its foundation and to properly secure the roof with metal clips. He also recommends wind-resistant windows and garage doors, since homes often collapse after these weak spots are blown out. But keep in mind, he says, that if you’re hit by a house-wrecking tornado (just 3 percent of them are), the only truly safe spot will be the concrete shelter you worked into the blueprints. In less severe twisters, you may be safe in a closet, a windowless bathroom, or in the space below a staircase.
Sirens have long been the standard of tornado readiness. High-risk Oklahoma City, for instance, swears by its $4.5 million computer-controlled network of 167 sirens that sound for three minutes after a warning is received from the National Weather Service. But the use of sirens varies widely. Some officials say sirens don’t tell enough about the location or severity of the twister and that people inside their homes may not hear them.
What works best to save lives?
A combination of warnings, says Harold Brooks, research meteorologist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. In his state, sirens are supported by local radio and TV broadcasts. And in Orange County, Florida, a new service sends storm warnings to people’s cell phones and e-mail accounts.