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Columns : Island Notes - Peter Barratt Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Idea of hurricane tornado-proof safe rooms revisited
By Peter Barratt
Apr 25, 2014 - 12:15:32 PM

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Hurricanes are an ever-present and deadly nuisance for people who live in the Bahamas. But hurricanes are not the worst problem. Though more localized, tornados are often associated with hurricanes and are several magnitudes worse. The Bahamas Building Code addresses the effects of a Category 3 hurricane but this does little to mitigate the effects of a tornado.

I would like to propose the Bahamas Building Code should, in future, require that all new construction in the Bahamas contain a small ‘safe’ room to mitigate the worst features of a tornado. This would be space something like a closet or bathroom that is constructed with reinforced walls and an internal ‘roof’’ so designed to resist the extreme wind force of a tornado (or an exceptionally severe hurricane) assuming the rest of the fabric of the building was destroyed. The ‘safe room’ might incorporate several of the following features:

•    It should located at an elevation to preclude any possibility of flooding
•    It should have solid (preferably reinforced concrete) floor, walls and roof
•    The narrow door should be of sturdy construction (preferably steel)
•    The door should have sturdy double locking mechanism yet be easy to open
•    The space should have just minimal ventilation and of course, no windows

Since the full effect of a tornados does not normally last above fifteen or so minutes the space allotted to each occupant can be minimal (say approximately two square feet per person). And, providing it is not encumbered with items that cannot be quickly removed the space could serve other functions as mentioned above.
Public buildings and institutions should seriously consider retro-fitting all structures to meet the outlined criteria. Such ‘safe rooms’ would also serve as a refuge for the longer-lasting powerful hurricanes.
It is doubtful such ‘safe’ rooms could be made mandatory for existing domestic buildings but prudent people and institutions might consider at least making some of the suggested changes to existing structures. Obviously it would add a small cost to the building but it would undoubtedly save lives - and that is something one cannot put a price on! 
© Peter Barratt

About the Author: Peter Barratt is a British and Harvard-trained architect/town planner who was formerly in charge of the development of Freeport. He writes with first-hand knowledge of the Bahamas having first visited in 1960. Because of his long experience in the islands he has been able to record many interesting insights, observations and history that readers should find intriguing. He has published several books about the island country: Grand Bahama, Freeport Notebook and Bahama Saga, (the latter a historical novel about the islands). He has also written a full colour work entitled: Angelic Verses and two other works are near publication: The Port at War and St Peter Never Came. His contact address is: islandplan@yahoo.com

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Island Notes - Peter Barratt
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