State to offer tornado shelter rebates

Homeowners who want protection from twisters like the ones that hit the region in May can begin signing up next month for a possible rebate toward up to three-fourths of the cost to install a tornado shelter.

“The unfortunate weather incident we had last spring around Memorial Day goes to show that Ohio is in the area of the country that can get a lot of tornadoes and it’s important for people to be prepared,” said Jay Carey, Ohio Emergency Management Agency spokesman. “If they are in a home that does not have a basement, it’s critically important they have an area they can go to.”

The Ohio Safe Room Rebate Program will take applications from Jan. 6 to April 6. Homeowners that are selected and qualify are eligible for up to 75% of the allowable costs used to install and construct a safe room, up to a maximum of $4,875, according to the Ohio EMA, which distributes the federal grant money.

The safe rooms must meet certain Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements, including the door withstand up to 250 mph winds, Carey said.

Though no one died locally as a direct result of the Memorial Day tornado outbreak, more than 130 people were injured. A Mercer County man who was killed May 27 is among 38 tornado fatalities across the country this year, according to the National Weather Service.

The Xenia tornado of 1974 killed 33 people and injured more than 1,300 others.

MORE: Tracking the money: How millions in tornado assistance is being spent

A safe room built to FEMA specifications provides “an envelope of near absolute protection,” according to the Ohio EMA.

The program, which began in 2012, receives 350 to 700 applications a year, but can only award about 100 homeowners, a number dependent on available funds, according to the state. A computer will randomly draw the recipients.

Safe rooms can be constructed or installed in a basement, under a garage floor or slab foundation or in an interior first-floor room, Carey said. They can also be buried in a yard or be solid stand-alone structures near a home.

MORE: ‘I want him to go to jail.’ Tornado survivors say they paid contractor who skipped out

The Memorial Day tornadoes generated a heightened demand for safe rooms in southwest Ohio, said Shawn Cravens, general manager of Granger Plastics, a Middletown company that manufactures in-ground shelters.

“This year was a little bit bigger locally for us,” he said. “The destruction in Dayton was more severe than initially thought.”

The company’s rotationally-molded polyethylene Granger ISS storm shelter holds up to six adults.

Cravens said 75 to 100 of the units were shipped after the May storm to customers in the Cincinnati-Dayton region, including some directly impacted by tornadoes.

“We’ve had multiple families that either had damages or complete losses,” he said.

MORE: Interactive map shows thousands of tornado damaged properties in 3-county area

Only single-family residential homeowners can apply for the rebate for their primary residence. Selected homeowners must attend a mandatory safe room briefing to remain eligible for the rebate.

The rebate is only available as a partial reimbursement after construction is completed and the property owner has submitted required paperwork, including documentation that the work was completed by a licensed contractor.

Walking the Path of the Storm

In Sunday’s newspaper, Dayton Daily News reporters Chris Stewart and Josh Sweigart retrace the destructive final minutes of the most powerful Memorial Day tornado through east Dayton and Riverside as well as recount other tornadic outbursts that devastated parts of Greene and Miami counties the same night.

More information and how to apply for the rebate are on Ohio EMA's website at FEMA's safe room specifications can be found at

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