County considers safe rooms for disaster protection

Published 9:53 am Thursday, July 9, 2015

When natural disaster strikes, having safe shelter can mean the difference between life and death.

Freeborn County is working toward opening a safe room to help in the event of a tornado or other natural disaster.

The county recently sent a letter of intent for a community safe room that would be at the Freeborn County Fairgrounds.

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Freeborn County Emergency Management Director Rich Hall plans on placing several safe rooms throughout the county, but there is still work that needs to be done before the Federal Emergency Management Agency approves the county’s letter of intent to have a safe room at the fairgrounds.

The county needs to update its five-year hazard mitigation plan. The county has to include townships, school districts and local towns to complete the task. Hall plans on holding meetings with the different government entities to get the plan updated.

“History shows the need for safe shelter,” Hall said. “We also have two interstates nearby. Travelers need to have a place to go. We need to protect citizens of our community and local traffic that flows through.”

Hall isn’t sure when the letter of intent will be approved.

Hall estimated the proposed safe room at the fairgrounds would cost between $350,000 to $400,000. FEMA would pay 75 percent of the cost, and the county would pay 25 percent.

The safe room is planned for the fairgrounds because there are approximately 90 structures within a half-mile radius of the fairgrounds that don’t have a basement, Hall said.

During the Freeborn County Fair, the safe room would be used as a command center, Hall said.

“We’re looking forward to talking to local communities, schools and townships to get the hazard mitigation plan updated,” Hall said. “Surrounding communities need to be in the hazard mitigation plan due to recent natural disasters. They will help us make sure everything is covered in the plan.”

Hall estimates a three-year process to get a safe room built.

Freeborn County Commissioner Glen Mathiason said trailer courts are the most susceptible to tornadoes.

“When a tornado strikes, a trailer isn’t safe because there are no basements in trailers,” Mathiason said. “They’re not strongly built, relatively speaking, so there is an increased chance of injury. If we’re going to put a shelter up, in an ideal situation it would be close to a trailer park.”

A safe room is a room or structure specifically designed and constructed to resist wind pressures and wind-borne debris impacts during extreme-wind events, such as tornadoes and hurricanes, for the purpose of providing life-safety protection.

According to FEMA, a community safe room can provide near-absolute protection for many community members, when it is constructed in accordance with FEMA criteria. A growing number of safe rooms have already saved lives in actual events, according to FEMA.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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