TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Call it an in-house shelter for "the big one."
A researcher at the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering has designed a hurricane shelter that can be built inside most conventional homes to withstand winds of 140 mph - a Category 4 storm - even if the rest of the house is ripped apart.
Nur Yazdani, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, said the so-called "retrofit room" involves fortifying a bathroom or closet with hurricane straps, anchor bolts, plywood or steel plate walls, an independent ceiling and a steel door to keep its occupants safe. All of these materials are available at most home improvement stores, and the room is fully functional for its original purpose once completed.
The shelter can be built for about $3,000 in materials and labor.
Yazdani developed the design with a grant FSU received from the Florida Department of Community Affairs' Division of Emergency Management.
Faced with chaotic evacuations during hurricane warnings that cause massive traffic backups and fills available space at public shelters, state officials tout the in-home shelter as a safe stay-at-home option. Residents who live directly in a strong hurricane's path or in flood zones would be encouraged to evacuate even if their homes have the shelter, said Craig Fugate, Florida's director of emergency management.
"We want residents to identify and develop safe local shelter options as part of their disaster plans," Fugate said. "If they have taken all the necessary precautions, staying at home is a better alternative than getting out on the roads and possibly putting themselves at risk of greater danger."
Information on local flood zones and shelters can be found on the state's emergency management Web page at www.floridadisaster.org. Yazdani's report is also temporarily available at this Web site.
Yazdani said he wanted to develop a less expensive alternative to an in-house shelter designed for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The FEMA "safe room" is designed to withstand a tornado with winds of 250 mph, but it also carries a price tag of about $6,000 and is difficult to build in most existing homes.
Yazdani said the risk of a tornado hitting a home in Florida is much smaller than that of a major hurricane impacting it.
"When I saw FEMA's safe room design, I tried to think of how you could do something like that but at less cost," Yazdani said. "The retrofit room offers a comparable alternative that will withstand the vast majority of hurricanes at a price more people can afford."
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