February 7th, 2008

ozarque figure

Shelter from the storms...

rosalux commented:
"I just heard an interview with one of the tornado survivors (on Canadian radio, for some reason). Holy cow. Every time we're in Missouri or Kansas I spend half my time thinking "where are the storm shelters for all those trailer homes?" And after you posted I spent more time than I probably should have looking at earth-sheleterd home plans. I wonder how many people will take this opportunity (or extract enough money from insurers) to make safer, more energy-efficient houses."

This most recent tornado event was baffling. Here in tornado country it's common enough to have severe damage and power outages, but it's unusual for people to die. Not that it never happens; it does. Trees topple on people's cars; lightning strikes or downed power lines get them. But for people to die in large numbers... until this time, that had become rare. There's a good warning system; the weather radios that keep you posted even when the power is off are cheap enough that most people can afford one; even tiny towns have tornado sirens; and we know what we're supposed to do when there's a tornado or a severe thunderstorm headed our way. [Sometimes the thunderstorms do as much damage as all but the worst tornadoes, because of the straight-line winds and lightning and large hail they're packing.] Most of the time, people who die in these tornadoes are people who do something stupid like ignoring all the warnings, or like standing in their open front door shooting a videotape of the storm as it arrives.

I think it should be a criminal offense for trailer parks and mobile home parks and RV parks not to have a sturdy storm shelter on the property, large enough to hold the entire population of the park, and stocked with drinking water and emergency supplies. The weatherpersons, after telling you that a tornado is headed your way, always say that if you're in a mobile home you should get out of there immediately and go somewhere safer -- but often there's no "somewhere safer" available. Somewhere Safer should be right there in the park, with its doors unlocked, ready to shelter you. When one of my children and her family were living in a mobile home out in the country an hour away from our place, and miles away from the nearest place that could possibly be considered safe in a tornado, I just plain couldn't stand it. To save the money that it would have cost for my psychiatric treatment when I lost my mind completely, I spent the money to have a good storm shelter put into the ground right outside their back door. It was money well spent, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. But most people living in mobile homes and RVs in tornado country have nowhere safe to go. The answer to rosalux's question -- "Where are the storm shelters for all those trailer homes?" -- is that there aren't any.

I think we know a good deal about making homes more energy-efficient, and need only the will and self-discipline to get it done -- but I'd like to explore the question of making our homes safer from the storms. Starting with making them safer from tornadoes and severe thunderstorms, which we're told are going to be more frequent now and more severe, as a result of climate change.

There are certain things that seem reasonably obvious, but perhaps they're just so much twinkledust... For example:

1. There's no way to safeguard the multitude of things that are inside most of our homes; in a tornado, they're going to be lost. Which means that the irreplaceable photographs should be stashed somewhere on the Internet, where they'll be available for making new copies. Which means that the absolutely essential legal documents should be where? In a small safe? In the bag that you have always packed and ready to grab as you leave in an emergency? In a safety deposit box at your bank? All of those places?

There is of course the overwhelmingly obvious proposition that we'd be better off without so many things... but I have my doubts about seeing us change in that direction. We're packrats, we members of the tribes of humankind. Even when we're homeless, we do our best to accumulate a batch of things that have to be hauled around and looked after.

2. In tornado country, it would be safer to put all our homes underground. Is that true? Or would it just mean that when a tornado hit we'd be buried in rubble?

3. People have started putting what are called "safe rooms" in their homes -- rooms that are designed to provide shelter for the duration of a tornado or severe thunderstorm and remain standing even if the rest of the house is destroyed. That saves their lives, and it's a step forward. But the question remains: Is there some way -- some affordable way -- to build the whole house so that it would remain standing? Or so that at least a core -- a kitchen and bathroom and one more room and the roof -- would still be there when the storm passed over?

4. Maybe we have it entirely backwards and upside down. Maybe what's needed is homes that are disposable and cheap and quickly replaceable, plus a storm shelter or a safe room.


Make no mistake: It's not that I'm indifferent to the plight of people facing wildfires and hurricanes and blizzards and tsunamis and floods and earthquakes and all the rest of the weather horrors. I'm not indifferent; I'm just starting with the one example that I'm most familiar with. It seems to me that unless we figure out what "a safe home" means on this planet now, we're just going to lurch from one Katrina Event to another, and humankind is headed backward, not forward, no matter who happens to be president of the United States.

Over to you...
ozarque figure

Personal note; schedule....

I just wanted to let you know that my posting and comment-responding is going to be a more erratic than usual for a while -- because, as of this morning, the work on the new revised edition of The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense for Barnes & Noble has begun. And as always seems to be the case today, my editor would like me to get that work done as quickly as possible.

This is a Good Thing, in spite of the way it will cut into my LJ time; I'm pleased. And it's temporary...