After a tornado killed 162 people in Joplin, Mo., safety experts and cement manufacturers proposed a way to reduce the damage of these tornados and ultimately, save lives: Require most new apartments, commercial structures, and other large buildings in tornado-prone areas to have safe rooms — concrete boxes where people can shelter, even if the building around them is torn to shreds. Safe rooms provide “near-absolute protection” during a tornado, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They can cost as little as $15,000 for a small shelter in a commercial building and could have saved the six workers who died when a tornado destroyed the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill., about two weeks ago
This wasn’t the first time this proposal was made. In 2012, a proposal to require safe rooms in areas of high tornado risk was proposed to the International Code Council, which is made up of state and local code officials from around the country. This group is the group that votes on this proposal, but even before the proposal reached the council it was scraped away by a council committee made up of building industry representatives and local code officials. The Committee deemed this proposal to be “overly restrictive and contained several technical flaws.”
At a hearing before the committee that would decide whether the proposal would advance to a vote by the council, representatives of the building industry lined up to oppose it, according to a video recording of the hearing. “It’s totally inappropriate,” said Ron Burton, who at the time worked for the Building Owners and Managers Association and had previously overseen codes and standards at the National Association of Home Builders. “I’m concerned that this is just not the fix,” said Jonathan Humble, a director of construction codes and standards at the American Iron and Steel Institute. In 2014, with the Joplin Tornado, this proposal got a boost and was called upon by this committee again, and was also rejected again.
Many started to analyze why this was the case for this committee, and the predominant answer is this; “It’s a political issue more than anything else. Many different organizations within the building code do not want to increase the cost of a home.”