Storm Shelters Become Priority in Oklahoma after Devastating Tornado

An aerial view of Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK during its rebuilding.

An aerial view of Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK. as it is being rebuilt. The school was rebuilt after being destroyed by an EF5 tornado in 2013. (Christopher Mardorf, FEMA)

Following the devastating tornado in Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013, which killed 24 people, including seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School, the community and the state of Oklahoma took steps to ensure the safety of the community by improving residential building codes and building safe rooms in schools.

Residential Building Codes

The Moore City Council voted unanimously in March 2014 to adopt new codes that focused on tornadic impact on homes.

“We have seen from this tornado, progressive construction techniques that can survive strong winds,” said Mayor Glenn Lewis in 2014. “We can learn from this devastating event to build stronger homes and neighborhoods across the United States – and it starts in Moore.”

Moore implemented new residential building codes requiring roof sheathing, hurricane clips or framing anchors, continuous plywood bracing and wind-resistant garage doors. New homes would be built to withstand winds up to 135 miles per hour -- the equivalent of an EF2 tornado -- rather than the accepted standard building requirements of 90 miles per hour.

So far, Moore is the only city in the United States to implement a residential building code of this kind. 

To meet this new code, the Moore Association of Home Builders estimated an added cost of $1.00 per square foot, but quickly realized costs were closer to $2.00 more per square foot, with some builders even reporting costs closer to $2.50 plus $400 for a wind rated garage door. Yet, a study conducted by Dr. Kevin M. Simmons showed that the housing market in Moore has not suffered from the higher prices.

“The risk of driving away new home construction did not materialize,” Simmons said, “Moore has increased the safety of residents in new homes and set a standard for other communities to follow.”

Storm Shelters in Schools

After the Moore tornado, the Oklahoma City Council required that all new schools include safe rooms. The district has built 27 safe room gyms to FEMA specifications since 2013, and three more will be complete by the end of 2018..

In 2015, the Moore Public Schools voted to approve a $209 million dollar bond issue for the shelters. Before May 2013, Moore only had two shelters in the school district. Now, they have over two dozen. Moore High School’s new shelter was completed in 2017. This shelter is large enough to fit 2,600 people, which accounts for all students and staff at the school.

When current and future construction is complete in the Moore Public Schools District, all 35 buildings will have FEMA-rated shelters. 

Since the Moore tornado, almost every school district in the Oklahoma City metro has added at least one safe room to their district. El Reno, located just west of Oklahoma City, was hit by a large tornado in 2013, separate from the tornado that hit Moore. At the time of this tornado, El Reno Public Schools had zero safe rooms. As of 2018, the district has a FEMA mandated shelter to safety account for every student.

What does this mean for home shoppers?

If you are shopping for a home in the Moore area, prices more than likely aren’t affected by the change in residential code. These codes make your home safer for you and your family. In addition, you can expect your child to be attending a school with a safe room.

To learn about the types of tornado shelters you can add in your own new home, check out this article: Finding the Right Tornado Shelter for Your New Home.

Shannon Wilson is a Digital Content Associate for Builders Digital Experience (BDX). Her main role is to create video content, write and edit articles for and Shannon graduated from Texas Tech University in May 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Electronic Media and Communications. 

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