Oklahoma homeowners will be eligible for a cash rebate of up to $2,000 for the installation of a qualified tornado shelter under a program announced by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Using $1 million in federal grant money, the program will provide a cash rebate for up to 75 percent of the cost of installation of an above- or below-ground shelter.
‘When severe weather hits Oklahoma, it’s important that we, as leaders of our state, help our Oklahomans prepare for a plan,’ Fallin said. ‘Having a safe room in a home … is one of the ways we feel that we can save lives in our state.’
The program is only for homeowners, and recipients will be selected randomly on Jan. 3, although priority will be given to residents whose homes were destroyed by tornadoes earlier this year, said Oklahoma Emergency Management Director Albert Ashwood. As many as 20,000 Oklahomans are expected to apply for an estimated 500 available rebates, Ashwood said.
‘This is strictly an incentive program,’ Ashwood said. ‘It’s not an entitlement program.’
Ashwood said his agency will work with homeowners selected for the program to ensure that the shelter meets Federal Emergency Management Agency specifications. According to OEM, an average of 800 tornadoes are reported each year in the United States, resulting in 80 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries.
There has never been a reported death of someone in a shelter that meets FEMA qualifications, said Larry Tanner a researcher at Texas Tech University who has studied storm shelters and tornadoes for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the House Public Safety Committee met for a study on how to better protect residents living in mobile homes from tornadoes.
Tammy Short testified that her daughter, 24-year-old Laron Short, died May 11 when a tornado slammed into their Chickasha mobile home park and tossed a trailer that was improperly anchored onto their mobile home.
‘We thought we were careful,’ Short said, her voice quivering with emotion. ‘It’s not the installation that needs to be checked on. They need to be inspected regularly.
‘They shouldn’t be ignored because they can’t afford a brick home. They have families. They have children. They have lives.’
Rep. Pat Ownbey, who requested the study, said he hopes to pursue legislation that would help ensure mobile homes are properly anchored.
‘Manufactured housing retailers install homes properly and inspect the homes they sell, but, unfortunately, there are individuals who install their own homes and there are a number of older mobile homes out there that were never installed properly,’ said Ownbey, R-Ardmore. ‘I think that if we can find a way to ensure that more homes are properly secured, we will see fewer deaths.’
Short and Jaunita Dowling, a close friend who was living inside the trailer when the tornado hit, both urged lawmakers to consider mandating that mobile home parks provide a shelter for residents.
‘The park should be responsible for all of its residents. That’s why we pay our lot rent,’ Dowling said. ‘We’re the taxpayers. We need to be protected. I don’t care how much it costs.
‘If they don’t have facilities to accommodate all the people, shut them down.’
Ownbey, who represents an area where four people living in mobile homes were killed by a nighttime twister in February 2009, said he would love to see shelters in all mobile home parks, but stopped short of endorsing a state mandate.
‘It has to be market driven,’ Ownbey said. ‘I just don’t like mandating. And there has to be some personal responsibility in this as well.’
Any effort to require the installation of storm shelters at mobile home parks will be resisted by the industry, said Deanna Fields, executive director of the Manufactured Housing Association of Oklahoma.
‘Quite frankly, storm shelters are an amenity,’ Fields said. ‘I don’t know how many traditional housing subdivisions out there offer public shelters.’