UAB enters manufacturing phase for tornado shelter panels

UAB enters manufacturing phase for tornado shelter panels

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Testing the panels in 2012. Source: UAB News Testing the panels in 2012. Source: UAB News
A test-shelter built with the panels. Source: WBRC video A test-shelter built with the panels. Source: WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

Many of you may be considering making some changes to your home to better protect you from the next big storm.

You may remember FOX6 News reported almost two years ago that researchers successfully tested a new panel that could be used in shelters and safe rooms.

A half-size model of the tornado shelter panels is on display at UAB. Researchers say they will soon be available for use.

Dr. Uday Vaidya is a Professor in the UAB Department of Material Science and Engineering and he's the project leader. The initial goal was to have them ready last year, but he says some of the final details have held up the process.

"We are working with two manufacturers right now who are looking to produce the panels. …" Dr. Vaidya said, "Some of the details are actually in the framing, in terms of locking down the panels to the foundation."

The panels, when installed, will retrofit an existing space, like a closet, from top to bottom. During a tornado threat, you walk inside and latch the door. The panels have been tested over and over. They've withstood the force of fifteen pound two-by-fours flying at the speed of one hundred miles per hour. That's the speed of flying debris from an EF-5 tornado.

"So if you had a closet or bathroom retrofitted with this panel you should feel a lot safer," said Dr. Vaidya.

So, how do people feel about these panels and the idea of making an instant shelter indoors?

"I think it's a good idea for someone who doesn't have a basement. I live in a condo around here and that may be something I would be interested in," Loraleigh Griggs said.

Kimberly Bishop says while it's convenient, she has reservations. "Of course, saving a life, it would always make sense. But I think to some extent it's something new. We're hesitant with new things," Bishop said.

The panels passed inspection by "National Storm Shelter Association" and they are expected to be ready this year. Homeowners would have to go through a contractor, approved by FEMA, to get them installed. The cost is around $4,000 and FEMA has loans available to help with some of the cost.

Click here for the full report from the team at UAB.

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