Residents in the northeast Nebraska town of Pilger are learning about a grant program through which they can have safe rooms installed in their homes and businesses. The community was heavily damaged by a powerful EF-4 tornado in June of 2014.
Mary Baker, hazard mitigation officer at the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, says under the program, safe room costs are shared with FEMA.
“Seventy-five percent is paid for by the federal entity and 25% is paid for by the local entity,” Baker says. “In the case of Pilger, the community Pilger is basically championing that grant on behalf of their residents, so they are paying the residents back for the money they are paying for their residential safe rooms.”
Communities across Nebraska are eligible for the grants, as long as there’s also a local entity to sponsor that portion of the cost.
While some safe rooms are only big enough to hold two or three people, others can be much larger. They can be placed above or below ground, reinforced with cement or steel plates, among many other options.
Baker notes the costs are varied. “It just depends on what type and how big they want,” Baker says. “They’re graded anywhere from a few thousand dollars would be on the lower end, up to 10 to 12-thousand dollars, depending on how big you go.”
Larger safe rooms placed in schools, for example, can also be designed as anti-terrorism bunkers for active shooter situations.
As for tornadoes, some people might be concerned about becoming trapped inside the safe room, should structural debris or a tree fall in front of the door.
“Take your cell phone or a radio or some other form of communication inside your safe room with you so you can notify the emergency management staff if you get stuck in there,” Baker says. “When you build a safe room, the emergency management staff needs to know where it is. That allows first responders to have a list of safe rooms in their communities so those are the places they need to go to look for survivors.”
Safe rooms are built to withstand almost any kind of threat or disaster, including winds up to 250 miles an hour.