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May 3, 2014

Rush on shelters leads to long waits

OKLAHOMA CITY — Business booms this time of year for Norman’s Thunderground Storm Shelters.

Even though the company installs no less than 30 storm shelters a week, the wait to get one this time of year is at least two months. By the end of Oklahoma’s three-month tornado season, the company will have installed more than 500 underground shelters, and turned away disappointed customers away who hoped for an immediate install.

“There are people out there that can say we can get it to you in two weeks,” said Garett Howerton, director of operations for Thunderground. “They’re either lying to make a sale or there’s a reason they’re not booked.”

But as footage of tornado-ravaged disaster areas — like the one in Quapaw that killed a man last weekend — flash across television screens, shelter companies across the state get bombarded by calls from frantic customers looking for a quick shelter install. By this time of year, the state’s established shelter companies already have long wait lists.

Jay Stephens, co-owner of Tornado King Storm Shelter, says it’s not uncommon to get offered a cash bonus, if he’ll expedite a customer’s install.

The Muskogee businessman said his company doesn’t do the bonus program, but always has “people that get really desperate,” after tornadoes hit and upon hearing that the wait for a storm shelter from his company this time of year is at least six weeks.

“Everyone waits until it’s on our mind,” Stephens said. “That’s the wrong time. If someone wants to order one today, it would be (June) before they can get it.”

He recommends consumers consider installing storm shelters during the off-season, which is typically from June to December.

Adding to consumer chaos this time of year is the fact the shelter industry is relatively new and has few regulations, said Ernst Kiesling, executive director of the National Storm Shelter Association and a research professor in the National Wind Institute at Texas Tech University.

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