Tornado shelter rebate deadline two weeks away

Ohio homeowners who want increased protection from destructive storms have two weeks left to apply for a rebate of up to 75% of the cost to install a tornado shelter.

Tom Warner used a FEMA program administered by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency to help pay for the construction of a free-standing safe room. Warner and his wife Jane have taken refuge in the shelter several times since it was completed in 2014, including when twisters touched down both north and south of their Union home in Miami County during last year’s Memorial Day tornado outbreak.

“It’s comforting to know that it’s there,” he said. “The last couple years we’ve had some pretty good storms around so it’s kind of nice … There’s nothing around here for protection. We’re on solid rock, we can’t go down.”

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Homeowners have until 5 p.m. on April 6 to apply for reimbursement toward the purchase and installation or construction of a tornado safe room that can be either inside or outside homes. A safe room built to FEMA specifications provides “an envelope of near absolute protection,” according to the Ohio EMA.

Residents selected for the rebate program are eligible for a rebate up to 75% of the cost up to a maximum of $4,875.

Safe rooms can be placed in a basement; beneath a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or garage floor; or in an interior room on the first floor. A safe room may also be buried in a yard or built as a stand-alone structure near the home.

During the seven previous years, more than $1.5 million in rebates have been awarded to homeowners for the construction of more than 200 safe rooms across the state, according to Ohio EMA.

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The Warners’ shelter, which FEMA featured in a promotional video this year, is a five-foot by eight-foot structure near a garage about 20 feet from their house. It’s made of block filled with concrete and reinforced with rebar extending into bedrock below the structure up to the roof, which is layered with steel sheeting and plywood. A 400-pound door swings to the inside in case storm debris blocks the exit.

Warner said their shelter is stocked with emergency supplies, including a first aid kit, gloves, matches, extra clothes and an electric chainsaw in case they need to cut their way out.

A limited number of rebate applicants will be selected at random by computer. Chosen homeowners will be notified by email of their position on a priority list on or after April 22.

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Only single-family residential homeowners can apply for the rebate for their primary residence. Selected homeowners must attend a mandatory safe room briefing to remain eligible for the rebate, according to Ohio EMA.

The rebate is only available as a partial reimbursement after construction is completed and the property owner has submitted required paperwork, including documentation that the work was completed by a licensed contractor.

Warner said their property has never taken a direct hit by a tornado.

“Thankfully, I’ve not been exposed to one that way,” he said.

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