(Stillwater, Okla.) Tornado season has started, and the damage left behind by the most recent weather-front reminds us of the deadly threat these storms can bring. On average, there are roughly 55 tornadoes per year in Oklahoma, with the record high being 145 in the year 2000. These high numbers, some of the worst in the nation, should make tornado safety a priority here in Oklahoma. This is why we are calling on the Oklahoma Legislature and Governor Mary Fallin to require apartment complexes to install storm shelters for their tenants.
The state legislature has debated mandating public schools have storm shelters to protect students and faculty. We applaud the efforts to protect children. Unfortunately this would still leave those students vulnerable to tornadoes when they leave school. According to the Weather Bureau, the most common time for tornadoes is mid-afternoon through the early evening. It is during that time when children are at home — many of whom live in apartment complexes.
Residents in apartments have a harder time finding protection from storms than people who live in houses. Individuals in houses can better “shelter in place”; they have access to a ground level room or a basement, which most apartment dwellers do not. Also, unlike a homeowner who can install a storm shelter, apartment tenants cannot.
In 2013 more than 280,000 Oklahomans resided in apartment complexes. The issue of tornado safety clearly affects many Oklahomans. Of the 280,000 apartment dwellers, thirty four percent of those households include school aged children. This means nearly 100,000 children are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
It is for the reasons listed above we are calling on the government to help protect the children and their families living in apartment complexes across the state from life threatening tornadoes. A group of Oklahoma State University students and I are proposing legislation that would require every new apartment complex provide an on-sight storm shelter for its residents. This mandate would have no cost to taxpayers. Similar to the costs associated with an apartment’s swimming pool, the cost for the storm shelters would be picked up by a minimal increase in monthly rent.
Finally, having an onsite shelter will also eliminate the need for apartment tenants to attempt to drive to a distant storm shelter. Multiple fatalities have been attributed to residents of Oklahoma attempting to drive to a public storm shelter.
While some might argue that tornado death rates are not that high, that argument provides little comfort to the families of children whose deaths could have been prevented by an investment in concrete. Moreover, the peace of mind knowing you have access to a shelter will help make tornado season less stressful for thousands of Oklahoma families.
Join us in helping make a safer future for our families, friends, and residents of our state by passing legislation that requires apartment owners to build storm shelters. Tell your legislators this needs to be a top priority.