By Eric Swanson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Until recently, the staff at GroundSafe Shelters had to explain the details of underground storm shelters to customers.
But that’s not the case anymore.
The deadly tornadoes that struck Oklahoma in the past two weeks forced residents to start thinking about buying storm shelters for their homes, GroundSafe manager Davina Stubblefield said Wednesday. She said that many customers had thought about putting in shelters before the storms, but they put off making a decision — until now.
“It’s hard not to think about it when you’re driving through Moore and Norman every day,” she said.
Meeting demand: Orders for storm shelters had already spiked in the wake of the May 20 tornado that slammed into Moore and southern Oklahoma City. That tornado killed 24 people and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage.
The state was still reeling from that disaster last Friday when more deadly twisters and flash floods struck El Reno and Oklahoma City. Twenty people lost their lives in those storms.
The one-two punch left vendors scrambling to fill orders for their products.
Stubblefield said the May 20 tornado wiped out GroundSafe’s supply of underground storm shelters, and the Norman-based company had to boost production to replenish its stock. She said employees are working an extra three to four hours a day to keep up with sales, which have jumped by 40 percent to 50 percent in the past two weeks.
“We’re coming in earlier, we’re staying later,” Stubblefield said. “We’re all pitching in.”
She said demand has forced GroundSafe to increase its delivery time from two to four weeks, and the company will double its work force to help fill orders.
Another Norman-based company, Thunderground Storm Shelters, also reported a spike in orders for underground storm shelters.
The company is fielding more than 100 inquiries a day from people seeking price quotes and other information, said Garett Howerton, director of operations.
“It’s been nonstop going on two weeks now,” he said.
Howerton said sales of underground shelters have tripled over the past two weeks, but precise numbers were not immediately available.
Companies specializing in safe rooms also are reporting a surge of demand for their products.
The Del City-based company Oz Safe Rooms had two months’ worth of orders before the tornadoes, but the backlog is now closer to two years, Vice President and owner Andrew Zagorski said.
He said employees are working seven hours a week to fill orders, and the company is hiring more people in hopes of reducing the backlog.
Zagorski predicted that the demand for safe rooms would continue throughout the summer.
“I don’t see that slowing down,” he said.
Cost: Residential storm shelters can cost anywhere from $2,500 to $8,000 or more, depending on the size and type of facility. Several banks and credit unions are offering special no-interest or low-interest loans to help homeowners cover the costs of installing an underground shelter or safe room. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also provides funding for states to offer rebates.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management runs the SoonerSafe Rebate Program, which reimburses randomly chosen applicants who buy and install safe rooms above or below ground. The program offers eligible homeowners up to $2,000 per home, but the rebate cannot exceed 75 percent of the actual cost of the safe room.
The program is limited to owners of single-family homes. Apartment complexes, duplexes and other multi-family homes are considered businesses and do not qualify for rebates under the program.
The program has already chosen rebate recipients for 2013, but homeowners can apply for reimbursement year-round at soonersafe.ok.gov.