Miss. Receiving $6.6M to Boost ‘Safe Room’ Program

January 9, 2006

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina and amidst the ongoing recovery effort, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and federal officials reported the funding of a $6.6 million grant program to help protect against another natural disaster frequent in Mississippi – tornadoes.

The program, “A Safe Place to Go”, will reimburse up to 75 percent of eligible costs to property owners for the construction of safe rooms or storm shelters to protect against the dangers posed by extreme winds.

“The funding of this initiative will help Mississippians better prepare their homes and families for severe weather in our state,” said Gov. Haley Barbour. “It is important to identify a safe place to shelter in your home during any storm, and through this program residents have the opportunity to construct a safe place to act as their shelter – that is also affordable.”

The Magnolia State averages 24 tornadoes a year and ranks second in the nation in tornado related fatalities and injuries.

MEMA established the program after a series of tornadoes ripped through Mississippi in 2001, killing eight people and injuring more than 100 others.

Since then, MEMA has educated residents and communities throughout the state, with their ongoing efforts now a model for the success of the Safe Room program.

From its inception four years ago, more than 2,100 residential and 180 group shelters have been built in Mississippi and more than $4.5 million has been provided to support the ongoing project.

“Hurricane Katrina was a statewide event with spin-off tornadoes and high winds well inland,” stated Robert Latham, MEMA director. “This program has proven to save lives in Mississippi and it is our goal to continue educating and preparing Mississippians for future disasters.”

An above ground safe room is anchored to the ground to withstand extreme winds and strengthened with steel-reinforced concrete or steel sheathing to make the walls and ceiling virtually puncture-proof. The installation of an in-ground storm shelter must meet requirements of FEMA or the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) standard.

“The protection to human life that safe rooms and storm shelters provide have proven effective against tornado and hurricane force winds, but should not be considered a safe haven from hurricane storm surge,” said FEMA’s Nick Russo, federal coordinating officer for the disaster recovery effort in Mississippi.

It is through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) that the federal government reimburses the state. The HMGP program awards grant funds to MEMA to implement projects that will reduce future disaster damage to life and property.

The maximum federal share awarded to any individual applicant is $3,500 for residential structures and $5,000 for community shelters.

Mississippians interested to learn more information about the Mississippi Safe Room Project and installing an individual or community shelter should contact their county emergency management office.

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