When I was in college, my favorite cousin married a Kansas native and relocated from our home state of New Jersey to Wichita. During the next few years, Susan and I chatted regularly by phone, and she would tell me about the tornadoes her city encountered nearly every year. After graduating college, I visited Susan and her family, and she showed me the dank underground storm shelter she, her husband, and their sons would cram into when violent storms threatened.
Susan eventually divorced, but much to my bewilderment, she opted to stay in Kansas. Her kids later moved away from the Midwest, but Susan stayed put. When I asked my cousin why she didn’t relocate (her sons were gone and her siblings and father lived in or around New Jersey), she said she’d put down roots—Kansas was home.
I thought of Susan on May 20, when 24 people in Moore, Okla. were killed by an EF5 tornado. Fourteen more died in the Sooner State less than a week later, victims of another violent twister. Although a lot of men and women move from their birth states, many can’t fathom leaving family, friends, and familiar surroundings. That’s why Floridians hunker down during violent hurricanes, Californians hold tight during earthquakes, and Coloradoans come back to their beloved mountains after devastating wildfires.
Most states aren’t immune to natural disasters. On Aug. 23, 2011, I was sitting in my Washington, D.C., office when books began sliding around and the floor started shaking. I assumed the movement was related to the building’s ongoing renovation, but when I saw the glass wall in our suite’s reception area wobbling, I realized I was experiencing my first earthquake. The 5.8 magnitude quake caused damage to many local structures, including the iconic Washington Monument, which is closed indefinitely and needs millions of dollars of repairs.
Even if you live in an area prone to natural disasters, you just don’t think one is going impact your home—maybe your neighbors’ houses, but certainly not yours. That’s one reason why the Oklahoma builders we interviewed for our “Predictable Destruction” feature told us that their buyers opt for granite countertops—or a souped-up pickup truck—over safe rooms or storm shelters. Likewise, when a new house costs as little as $120,000, adding $2,500 to $8,000 for tornado protection is a tough sell.
But it’s your obligation as a builder to construct houses that help resist tornadoes, hurricanes, or fires. In Tornado Alley, for example, you can anchor the sill plate to the slab, connect the roof to the walls, bolt down the corners, and—most important—offer safe rooms’ standard. No dwelling will withstand a direct hit from a 200 mph tornado, but in the end, houses can be rebuilt; people can’t.