PAULDING — Those in attendance at the Paulding County Fair and all other fairs throughout the summer will likely have fun on their minds, or meeting with friends, or hoping that a 4-H project does well.
At the bottom of that list, on the other hand, may be natural disasters like tornadoes — but they definitely are something to be concerned about, noted Ed Bohn, director of Paulding County Emergency Management Agency.
And throughout this week’s fair, those in attendance will have a first-hand opportunity to see what is known as a Safe Room — an underground facility made of tough plastic and capable of withstanding winds of over 200 miles an hour.
Many brands and styles of safe rooms exist, but this one, located near the fairgrounds extension building, is capable of housing a family of six. Those with safe rooms may enter them through the very top of the structure, which is also where air is let in.
“It’s durable, but made of plastic,” said Bohn. “It provides safety for up to an hour at most.”
Why an hour at most? Because, said Bohn, once a tornado warning goes out, the storm will likely pass through the area in that time frame.
In recent years, Ohio has been in the path of an increasing number of tornadoes and extreme storms — nearly as many as such states as Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Underground safety shelters such as this have been around for over 20 years, but they are growing in popularity as severe weather increases.
This particular safe room will spend the summer traveling from fair to fair throughout the state, allowing as many Ohioans to see it and try it out as possible.
“It seemed like the logical thing to do in Paulding County,” said Bohn, “since we’re the first (Ohio) fair of the summer.” The safe room will travel to Putnam County, which Bohn said is the second fair in the state.
The purpose of the traveling safe room is to increase awareness of the structure and how to use it. “(The display) allows people to get a feel for it,” said Tammy Feehan, Ohio EMA northwest region supervisor.
If a safe room were to be purchased by families, it ideally would be placed underground outside of the home, although they can be installed in basements or attached garages.
Cellphones can work inside safe rooms depending on the room’s proximity to a cellphone tower. It also is suggested that an AM/FM radio or crank-powered weather radio be installed there. Otherwise, only items such as water, pillows, blankets and snacks and games for children should be kept inside the room.
Should the entrance to a safe room become obstructed by falling objects during a storm, the room’s location should be given to a local EMA so they would know where to locate it should severe weather strike.
The average cost of a safe room comes to around $7,000; however, a rebate program does exist. “The idea of rebates can certainly help families,” said Feehan.
The program provides rebates for all who save safe rooms and can take care of up to 75% of the costs.
Depending on an individual family’s situations, a smaller sized safe room may not be ideal; however, Bohn said, larger sized rooms do exist and have saved lives.
One such room, which could fit 200 people, was used successfully at the Delaware State Park near Columbus when hurricane-force winds destroyed much of the rest of the area but left the room intact. Ideally, said Bohn, community-sized storm shelters could be installed in various areas of the county.
“Every (company) has their own creation,” said Bohn, who added that EMA does not endorse any one particular type of safe room.
While the current safe room rebate program is closed, demand for the facilities will likely lead to other such programs at the beginning of the year. “(The programs) usually open in January,” said Anita Stechschulte, an emergency management specialist with Ohio EMA.
In the meantime, however, emergency management agencies all over the state hope that bringing the safe room to public places such as the county fair will increase the demand for them. “People need to be aware of the necessity of (the safe room),” Bohn said.
“In my agency, you want to strike while the iron is hot.”
Those wanting more information may see EMA representatives or look online.