Project Dorothy Room


I finally got a project in July, prior to that time life had been enough of a project to keep me busy. Although I have not finished this task yet, I wanted to write about it before summer had passed-it just seemed a bit more timely. This week I want to tell you about our indoor tornado shelter.


I want to say a few things before we get started. First, this column is not a step by step instruction in how to build a tornado shelter, I am just telling you what I did to try protect my family from storms. Also, much of the construction is based on instruction found on the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website. An F-5 tornado will destroy everything in it’s pass and if one was heading my way, I would head for the basement and prepare to meet my maker. I am building a first floor tornado shelter because it is much easier to enter than our outside-entry basement. In this area, we typically receive an F3 tornado or less-the Mentor storm last summer was an F3-and much of the damage is from flying debris in which case our shelter will protect us pretty well. Anyway, you should make a plan to protect yourself in the event of a tornado and you should use information based on engineered plans from federal agencies who deal with weather emergencies. Head for public shelter if you have no basement. Pity, I had to waste a third of my column on a disclaimer but that is the world in which we live.


The plans I based our shelter on were for an outdoor shelter mounted on a slab. I decided to basically build the shelter inside our house, under the stairway. A few basic rules of construction were that all plates and studs had to be doubled and each connection was made with hurricane straps. The interior walls were then covered with two layers of ¾ inch plywood oriented so the grain runs at a 90 degree angle. The final step for the wall is to cover the side facing the living space with 14 gauge metal which will catch any splinters should flying debris impact the plywood walls. I like to re-use building materials so I plan to cover everything with the wood from the counter I purchased from the old Viking Cafe before it was torn down. This wood is thick and has a nice-looking veneer that is attractive and should fit in with our current décor. The final act will be to install an entry door with three hinges and three dead-bolt locks located directly across from each other. The door will open into the new room in case there is storm debris blocking our exit. I’ve already installed electricity so we have light and a plug-in but will also mount an old-style wall phone that doesn’t need to be plugged in for cases of emergency. I also use screws instead of nails to construct everything as they hold much better.


There you have it, my first project in a long time. I tried to give you a balanced overview of the wind storms we have in this area and my reaction to protecting the Nelson’s from this threat. I spent several months studying different designs before I came to this one and suggest you consult official sources before you construct or purchase anything pre-built. My final thought was that the National Weather Service includes a suggestion to find an interior room in the event of a tornado. What I have constructed is an interior room from plans designed for an exterior shelter which gives me courage. It is these thoughts I will carry with me should weather ever occur in which I have to lock us into our Dorothy room.


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