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20-40-60 Etiquette---Hard question for shelter owners

by Helen Ford Wallace Modified: June 26, 2013 at 10:25 pm •  Published: June 26, 2013
By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace


QUESTION: What is storm shelter etiquette? Are you obligated to invite the neighbors, even if you have a small shelter that only holds six? What if you don’t have room? Is it OK to bring pets? Guests? Is it proper etiquette to ask to join the neighbor’s storm shelter if you don’t have one? Can you turn people away?


CALLIE’S ANSWER: This question breaks my heart. First I want to say for all who have lost homes, schools and loved ones in the recent storms, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. That being said, cram that shelter with as many people as you can. Our animals are a part of our family, or at least our dog is. I would be devastated if my dog didn’t get to come into the shelter with us.


We all need to have a safe tornado plan if one hits. Ask your neighbors, family, friends, schools, church and co-workers if they have room for your family. Know your options before the storm.


LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: This question made me think. We have dear neighbors who invited us, when we first moved in, to use theirs anytime, for which I am thankful. But then I never thought to ask any more questions in calmer times, like could we bring our dog? Will we all fit? Is there room for extra treasured items we can grab? And if they hadn’t invited us, could we, in a moment of panic, go knock on their door?


First, I don’t think my neighbors are obliged to invite us, although I’m glad they did. It’s their shelter and they built it in the size they could afford to protect their own family, and it’s important for us to have our own plan for riding out dangerous storms.


And when my kids and I needed it recently, we didn’t think twice about bringing our dog — another family member — with us. Only later did I realize that we should have asked first, although no one minded her presence, since they all brought theirs, too. So we gathered in our neighbors’ storm shelter, with kids of all ages (mostly our neighbors’ grandchildren and great-grandchildren but others from nearby as well), adults and about four or five dogs. I enjoyed meeting everyone, and we fit just fine as we sat through recent storms. Only once did we really have to close the cellar door briefly, when the May 19 tornadoes hit Edmond neighborhoods about a half mile away.


It didn’t occur to me right then, as invited guests of the storm shelter, that “more isn’t always merrier.” But since then, I’ve asked those neighbors some of those questions about what we can bring. I also have briefly checked with them again to make sure they felt like they still had room to include us as their own family has grown to include new children, and I will revisit that. I imagine that none of us would want to turn anyone away under extreme circumstances, but I understand that it’s a privilege to have one to go to, and I wouldn’t want to abuse it.


Sadly, with recent tragic events, we’ve all had to think about these issues. But the more we can address them on sunny days ahead of time, the better off we will be in a panic. If you’d like to ask neighbors if they have room for one more family, do so apart from the storm.


HELEN’S ANSWER: God bless Oklahoma. We need all the storm shelters we can find.


If I had a shelter, it would be hard to turn someone away, particularly if the tornado was close by, but hopefully a neighbor would talk to me in advance so that he would know the size of the shelter and the number of people he could bring. Most people, particularly those with basements, are happy to accommodate people and pets.


During Oklahoma’s last tornado, one of my friends called to see if his neighbor had room for him in his shelter. When told the shelter was small and could hold only a limited number of people and it was already filled with his family, the man headed for a local hotel with a basement. His feelings were not hurt. The reality was that the neighbor could not cram another person underground. Be storm aware and plan shelter arrangements and ask if pets are welcome.


GUEST’S ANSWER: Don Mecoy, The Oklahoman’s Business Editor: My family installed an in-ground storm shelter within a year of the May 3, 1999, Moore tornado. We have descended into its depths several times, although we’ve been fortunate enough to have never taken a direct hit. While we’ve never been approached by neighbors seeking shelter, I believe lifeboat rules would apply to such a situation.


That is, we’ll take on as many people as we can without sinking the boat. In this case, the door on top of the shelter must close and no one on the bottom can suffocate. I must note that we already are putting seven people (my family of six and my mother from across the street) in a shelter designed for six. It’s a conversation that I would be glad to have with a neighbor who is planning ahead. I would much prefer to deal with the issue during calm weather than in a moment of panic.

Callie Gordon is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is in her 40s, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email

by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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