NORMAN — With spring just around the corner, many Oklahoma residents may begin to think about the weather, or more specifically, tornado season.
One Norman neighborhood took matters into their own hands to be prepared for tornado season this year by building an above-ground shelter. Some of the questions that might spring to mind is why an above-ground shelter? Is it just as safe as below ground?
The Fiddlers Green Homeowners Association decided in October to build the ground shelter so residents would have a safe, easy access place to go when weather got dicey.
Fiddlers Green is one of Norman’s retirement communities that houses around 72 people. The above-ground shelter was a natural decision for the neighborhood, as it would be more accessible for residents.
Bud Argo, president of Fiddlers Green Homeowners Association, said while looking at the type of shelter to build in the neighborhood, building an underground one would include making the trek down steep stairs. With residents age 55 and up, some in wheelchairs or with limited mobility, an underground shelter was not the best option.
“A below-ground shelter would have only accommodated less than half of the residents,” Argo said.
But is it still safe?
Yes. The shelter is FEMA approved to withstand an EF-5 tornado and 250-mile-per-hour winds, he said.
Wayne Cockerham, a resident at Fiddlers Green, said he remembered that safe rooms were some of the only structures left in Moore after the tornado in ’99.
“It’s just as safe (as a below-ground shelter),” he said.
Maurine Garton, a resident at Fiddlers Green, said she will feel just as safe in the above-ground shelter as she would in an underground one.
“I saw them build it. There is 26,000 pounds of steel reinforcement in it,” Garton said. “I’m proud of it. After the landscaping is done, it will be safe and comfortable, and it will be an asset to our community.”
Garton said before the shelter was built, she was thinking about getting her own.
“Over the past few years, we’ve had some near misses,” she said regarding tornados that have passed through the area.
“A lot of neighborhoods don’t have anything,” Argo said. “They rely on the city to open up shelters.”
Argo said the community voted on the issue in October, and the association broke ground for the shelter in December. The facility was completed some time last month and electrical wiring in it was finished up last week.
On Tuesday, a few benches were moved into the shelter. Argo said benches will line the walls and they will paint the building inside and out. The shelter is big enough to hold all of the residents at Fiddlers Green, and each homeowner will have a key to it.
The shelter couldn’t have been done at a better time for the neighborhood, as Norman stayed under a tornado watch Tuesday from 5 a.m. to noon.