A state program to help Arkansans put safe rooms in their homes for protection from tornadoes and storms is becoming so popular officials say they have run out of money months before the budget year ends in July.
The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management had $1.25 million allotted for the Safe Shelter Program this year but ran out in April.
The number of Arkansans receiving grants since the program’s inception in 1999 passed 10,000 this year, and the state has reimbursed property owners nearly $10 million.
“I feel like this is one of the things we can do to directly save lives,” ADEM Director David Maxwell says.
Residents in White County took advantage of the program most, says Tamara Jenkins, the county’s emergency management coordinator. Since 1999, residents there have been reimbursed a total of $1,155,545, more than any of Arkansas’ 75 counties.
“I don’t know that there are negatives (to the program) other than the cost of the shelters,” Jenkins says.
Safe rooms are built in the home rather than away from the home like an in-ground shelter. Built properly, both are equally safe, says Karen Williams, state grant coordinator for the emergency management agency.
“It’s just a matter of what you prefer. If a safe room is done right, it will be just as safe as an in-ground,” Williams says.
A safe room costs at least $2,500. The state program will reimburse 50 percent of the cost, up to $1,000.
William’s supervisor, Terry Gray, came up with the idea for the program after watching dozens of tornadoes march through the middle of the state beginning in 1996. That year, a pair of tornadoes in northwest Arkansas killed four people, including two children who died when the house they sought shelter in was crushed. A year later, a twister in Saline County killed 10 people and injured 40.
The Legislature was receptive to Gray’s idea and has funded the program every year.
Rawls Concrete in Cleveland County puts safe rooms in all over the state, owner Chris Rawls says. Each one has 4-inch thick concrete walls reinforced with wire and rods. Rawls says his company uses steel doors with three hinges to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines.
Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, www.arkansasonline.com
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