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You’ve probably seen the news footage: mile after mile of devastation after a tornado strikes a community, ripping entire trees out of the ground and leveling every structure in its path of destruction.

While tornadoes are among nature’s most deadly forces, it doesn’t have to be that way. For a relatively modest price, you can install a storm shelter to protect the lives of your loved ones in an emergency.

Here are some things to consider.

MATERIALS

Storm shelters can be built from a wide variety of materials, all of which will have different properties for how they react to intense forces in the middle of a storm.

You should ask about not only what materials the storm shelter will be made from and how it will withstand the winds, but also how the materials will impact its lifespan and maintenance needs. For example, wood will eventually rot. Steel will eventually rust. Concrete can crack and leak over time.

Depending on how they are installed and engineered, different types of shelters can have drastically different maintenance needs, and you should know this up front.

HOW IS IT TESTED?

To have confidence in a storm shelter, you should pick one that has been thoroughly tested to withstand the strongest forces of Mother Nature.

There are two ways it can be tested: in the laboratory and in real life. The best shelters will have a track record showing both types of tests.

For laboratory tests, the Wind Engineering Institute at Texas Tech University has a track record of being one of the world’s best locations for designing and testing storm shelters. Since the 1970s, Texas Tech has pioneered the scientific development of materials and construction that will make storm shelters withstand the harshest winds, and they continue to test and certify today’s best products.

When shopping for a storm shelter, ask if it was tested by Texas Tech or other laboratories, and check the testing documents for yourself.

And finally, for that second type of testing — real-world results — ask to see photos or information about how the company’s shelters have held up in actual disasters. If a company has a long track record of building and installing storm shelters, they’ve probably got some examples of their products saving lives, which can give you peace of mind as a buyer.

WHO BUILDS AND INSTALLS IT?

The installation and construction of your storm shelter can make the difference between life and death in an emergency. No matter how well-designed a shelter is, if it’s not installed correctly by qualified, experienced technicians, it won’t provide the best protection when you most need it.

It’s also best for the storm shelter to be designed and tested as a unit, not just as individual parts that are designed, assembled and installed by separate companies.

The warranty coverage can often give you some idea of the quality of your storm shelter, but keep in mind that the warranty is only as strong as the company that backs it up. A thorough, long-term warranty is a great thing from a company that has strong finances, a good reputation and has been in business for a long time. The same warranty from a small startup company may not mean as much.

SAFE ROOMS

Finally, while most traditional storm shelters are installed underground, an increasing number of homeowners are looking at safe rooms as another option.

Safe rooms can be installed in new construction or retrofitted into existing homes, and they offer a more convenient alternative because they’re located above ground. They offer quicker, easier access, and some people use them for other purposes, such as storing guns, valuables, or supplies for surviving an emergency. The fact that they’re usually located in a climate-controlled part of your home makes them versatile.

In the end, whatever type of storm shelter you choose should make you feel confident. The design, construction and installation should give you the sense that whenever you hear about a storm warning, you and your family will be ready for whatever comes.

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