Which is better, A or B?
April 15, 2012 2:11 PM   Subscribe

TornadoFilter: Which of these options is the safest shelter in a tornado situation?

We live on the second floor of a 4-unit apartment building surrounded on three sides by cornfields. In the event of a tornado, we are likely to be pretty well screwed. The building does not have a basement.

Option A: Interior bathroom with no windows.

Option B: The first-floor hallway behind the stairs. The caveat with this one is that the front door and (large) sidelights are glass, and while we'd be somewhat sheltered by the stairs, there would still probably be a crapton of flying glass.

We've been going with Option B in the past 3 years that we've lived here, but now I'm doubting and wondering whether A might be better.

What say you, MeFi?
posted by altopower to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Option B sounds better to me, as a tornado zone inhabitant. Is there anything you could take with you to cover up with? Super heavy blanket that you keep stashed in the coat closet just for this situation? Couch cushions? Beanbag chair? Also, what's on the non-cornfield side of the building? Any other places to take shelter within running distance?
posted by donnagirl at 2:22 PM on April 15, 2012

Oh, or make friends with a first floor resident with a bathroom similar to yours. I would not turn away a neighbor in a tornado situation, they probably wouldn't either.
posted by donnagirl at 2:24 PM on April 15, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with friends on the first floor or the stuff to cover yourself up with. It's better to be in an interior room enough that I'd overcome social anxiety to ask.

Also contact your local county or state emergency management folks, and/or city code enforcement types. There are often rules for landlords to follow (though 4 units may be the upper boundary of existing exemptions) and there's always lots and lots of written advice. You may even be able to get the fire department to come, look around, and give you their opinion.
posted by SMPA at 2:37 PM on April 15, 2012

Response by poster: The other side is another building similar to ours, so no go there. The closest building that could function as a shelter is the fire department/village hall at the end of the block, which would be too much of a run, especially with a 7- and 4-year-old.

We have nodding acquaintance with the downstairs neighbors, so maybe I need to buck up and try to make that better. This, I think, is my current plan. Time to bake some banana bread and smile pretty!

SMPA, our village fire department is entirely volunteer, but maybe I could find someone at the county level to talk to. We talked to the landlord about it before we moved in and expressed our concerns, and it was like he hadn't even thought that someone would be concerned about such a thing. And of course, he had no advice.
posted by altopower at 2:52 PM on April 15, 2012

Yeah, first floor bathroom in the tub covered by cushions or ideally even a mattress, is what I've heard. Ideally in an interior space, and away from the southwest corner.
posted by salvia at 3:29 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

First floor bathroom, because no windows. Do not underestimate the deadly danger of flying glass shards. These and other flying debris cause most injuries in tornadoes.

It's somewhat irrelevant to think of which sides of the building are more exposed. Tornadoes don't care. In the event of a direct strike, they will envelop the building and pass over the top, and then your "sheltered" side will be exposed. You want as much construction between you and the outside as possible, especially if the roof and/or any upper stories are torn off.

Additionally, most bathrooms offer a bathtub or shower enclosure, which will have slightly more robust construction to support any tile or plumbing. If you can get in a tub, you'll be about as protected as you can be inside any structure. Horizontal windblown debris will hit the tub, and airflow inside the tub itself will be minimal.

That hallway/stairwell, though? It's gonna be a mess.

and it was like he hadn't even thought that someone would be concerned about such a thing

He's not really alone. Some experts have been urging for tornado-related improvement to building codes in the most prone regions for a long time now. Little modern apartment buldings like yours are at high risk, because the construction doesn't even live up to what was built pre-code (e.g. lighter, and less, wood framing). One could reasonably suggest that buildings of this type offer not much more protection than mobile homes.
posted by dhartung at 4:11 PM on April 15, 2012

Definitely worth making friends with the folks on the first floor, but have a Plan B in case they happen not to be home during the storm.

The building may have no official basement, but does it have any sort of crawlspace? I think I'd rather crawl through a trap door than take my chances with all that glass in the hallway.

Option C: consider moving to a place with a better place for you to ride out a tornado.

My uncle's house was hit directly. Took off the second floor. Left the ground floor, but everything had shards of glass driven a half inch deep.
posted by ambrosia at 4:41 PM on April 15, 2012

Response by poster: There is some kind of utility room (?) off the first-floor hallway. I have no idea what it actually is as the door is always locked. I wonder if we could somehow have access to that, if that would be a preferable plan B to the neighbor plan A. Landlord is weird about that kind of thing, though, so I don't really know. And not knowing what's in that room or whether it is actually a room makes it a big question mark. There is also a door that goes to under the stairs, but again, locked, so no clue what lies beyond. I would hesitate to go under the stairs, though...being underneath possibly-collapsing stairs doesn't sound too great. And these doors are cheap-ass hollow-core, so not terribly protective.

ambrosia, I'm not aware of any sort of crawlspace...there's not a cellar door outside anywhere, and there's no trap door in any obvious place inside. I would think the landlord would have mentioned it when we brought up our concerns if there was one, but I guess one never knows. And yeah, a basement is a requirement in the next place we move, for sure...that's a whole other complicated story, though. :)
posted by altopower at 6:17 PM on April 15, 2012

When we were in grade school, the tornado drills were lining up in the first floor hallway with our jackets over our heads. The bigger kids stood behind the littler kids, who were sitting in the crash position. I think we were instructed to sit down if something bad happened.

I live in a similar sounding building, on the second story as well, and I am conflicted. Because my "training" has always been to get to the ground floor, but my instinct says that the bathroom is safer. Except if the building collapses.

I would probably go to the ground floor, but we have access to a laundry room, boiler room and storage room that don't have windows.

Regardless, shoot for a corner where you are protected on more than one side.
posted by gjc at 6:25 PM on April 15, 2012

Stairways tend to be the strongest structural part of wood frame structures. I would pick the first floor hallways as tornadoes don't cause buildings to collapse so much as disintegrate and the closer you are to the ground/foundation the better. Check to see if the glass is tempered (sometimes you get lucky) in which case the danger is minimal. I would get some heavy woolen blankets to cover yourself with and huddle as far under the stairs as you can. The biggest danger is flying debri coming into the window and I am not sure you can guard against that. The best thing would be steel burglar bars in front of the window but as a rental there probably isn't much you can do. Could you stash a couple of plywood panels under the stairs you could use as a shield? BTW the best answer for this is find a new place to live, but probably not too feasible. Good luck and i feel for you. Tornadoes are no joke (When i was grade school age we lived close to Lubbock, TX and I vividly remember seeing more than one as a young child-and completely terrified).
posted by bartonlong at 7:20 PM on April 15, 2012

Presuming the room under the stairs is in the middle of the building and has no outside walls, that would be the best place to be other than a steel bathtub similarly located. Plastic/fiberglass tubs are worthless in that respect.

I'm pretty much effed in any major tornado where I live, so I keep a close eye on the weather and know where the nearby partially underground parking garages are. I figure those would be as good a place as any (short of a safe room or purpose built underground shelter. If you can get a cell phone signal, someone will eventually dig you out if the entrances are blocked.

I have a partially buried garage, but that wouldn't do a damn bit of good given the surface-level doors on one side. Maybe someday we'll build a safe room down there.
posted by wierdo at 9:54 PM on April 15, 2012

« Older How do I communicate better with my dad?   |   How to deal with dog attachment issues? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.