Which Storm Shelters Are Worth It?

Powerful Tornado Rips Through Moore, Oklahoma

David Cay Johnston believes that “costly specialized storm shelters—big public structures that would be used only every few years or even every few decades” aren’t smart investments:

In Webb City, next door to Joplin, the Federal Emergency Management Agency gave $3 million last year to build a safe room at the local high school. It can shelter 3,000 people, if they can get there before a twister strikes. (And that’s a big if, given the short time between a tornado warning and the moment when the doors need to close; just picture how tough it is to get 250 people into a jumbo jet in 40 minutes.) The shelter cost $1,000 per person it can protect from a tornado; building shelters for everyone in Missouri at this rate would cost $6 billion. Based on Missouri’s average of two deaths per year from tornadoes, this measure would save 100 lives over 50 years at a cost of $60 million per life. Even if the shelters last 200 years, the cost would be $15 million for each life saved.

An alternative:

A planned addition to Andalusia Middle School in the southern part of Alabama includes an interior multipurpose room designed to withstand deadly storm winds. Its walls are made of thick concrete with rebar reinforcing rods. And the hallways are built with the doglegs that Roberts favors. The new school also has windows, which are good for education and a sense of well-being. If a tornado approaches, heavy steel shutters inside the building lock in place, letting the winds throw the glass outward, but leaving those inside safe.

(Photo: Shown is the storm shelter that Gary and Ferrell Mitchusson used to ride out a massive tornado on May 21, 2013 in Moore, Ok. Their home was completely destroyed in the massive tornado. By Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)