Faced with unprecedented demand, the employees of Smart Shelters in Oklahoma City are pulling 18-hour workdays responding to the thousands of customers who are scrambling to purchase a storm shelter.
The company has sold about 1,700 shelters in the last 10 days and is now booking installations in January, said Robin Hood, director of marketing.
“The day after the Shawnee tornado, we saw a huge spike. After the Moore tornado, it's gone crazy,” he said.
Many residents still on the fence were pushed over the edge after deadly twister hit El Reno and Oklahoma City on Friday. Hood said Monday was the busiest day ever for the company, which has been in business since 2011.
‘Like buying insurance'
Edmond resident Brenda Bolen and her husband, Chris, purchased a shelter for their home Tuesday. She said despite having lived in Oklahoma their whole lives, this is the first time they felt concerned enough about tornadoes to buy one.
“It's kind of like buying insurance. You hope you never have to use it,” she said.
Tornadoes, she said, seem to be getting more frequent, violent and unpredictable. The couple will feel safer knowing they have an underground safe room in their home.
Residential shelters cost from $2,500 to $8,000 or more, depending on the size and type of safe room. Several credit unions are offering special no-interest or low-interest loans for residents to use to finance a shelter. The Federal Emergency Management Agency also provides funding to states for rebates.
At Precision Shelters, for instance, many customers are opting to use a zero percent loan offered by Weokie Credit Union or 0.99 percent financing through Communication Federal Credit Union, said manager Tracy Masters. Their most popular shelter costs $3,295 and accommodates 8 to 10 people.
Sales tend to pick up in January, as people begin thinking about storm season and receiving income tax refunds, she said. Sales remain steady through the fall, then drop off.
But after May 20, she said the company began receiving more than 200 calls a day.
Hood, of Smart Shelters, said people tend to take a reactive approach versus a proactive approach.
“There have been so many tornadoes lately,” he said. “People who have been putting it off in the past have finally decided I'm not going to put it off any more."
At a glance
SoonerSafe rebate program
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management manages the SoonerSafe program, which provides randomly selected applicants a rebate of up to $2,000 for storm shelters. Recipients for 2013 have already been chosen, but online applications are accepted year round.
The program, which is funded through FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, was able to provide rebates to more than 500 people this year. Department spokeswoman Keli Cain expects the state to receive additional hazard mitigation funding for the recent tornadoes.
SoonerSafe rebates can't be used on a shelter that's already installed. To apply or find out more, visit tinyurl.com/SoonerSafe.