We will save the maximum number of lives by implementing more effective tornado shelter technology

On May 22, 2011, an F5 tornado struck Joplin, Mo. Large trucks and concrete bumpers were tossed as far as one-eighth mile as the storm cut a mile-wide path of destruction across the town. The storm left many injured and 161 people dead.

This storm was deadlier than most, but tornado deaths are not unheard of. On average, 60-70 people die from tornadoes each year. In towns all across the Midwest, tornado shelters exist, but can’t always be accessed in time.

Project TOTO would like to change this. Many of these deaths could be prevented by more effectively placed shelters. Above-ground shelters will be cheaper to build, allowing more shelters to be built. They will also be easier to get into, but with an effective door system, will remain sealed against wind and flooding. Systematically placing these shelters will ensure that within 60 seconds, a shelter can be reached from anywhere in town.

Project TOTO is comprised of three different sections:

The first section will determine the most effective locations for containers. By placing them systematically and more visibly, they can be reached more quickly. We will concentrate these containers in areas that are heavily populated or isolated from other shelter—schools, hospitals, shopping centers, nursing home and stretches of highway. They will also be placed away from potential flying debris (such as parking lots) and ditches which could flood. To make them more detectable, a siren and light will be attached to the shelter.

The second section will determine the best way to keep the shelter attached to the ground during tornado force winds. To anchor the shelters, holes 3-feet in diameter and 10-feet deep will be filled with concrete. A metal chain will run through these concrete columns and be welded to the bottom of the shelter. A dirt berm will also be built on three sides of the container to reinforce the sides and minimize the effect of flying debris.

The third section will design a door that can be easily opened by any person but also remain sealed and keep flood waters and wind out when the tornado hits. To achieve this, a wheel handle can be turned to raise a slide bolt to hold the door closed. An o-ring or elliptical water seal will be used to prevent the shelter from flooding.

Altogether, we hope to create better tornado shelters to protect the lives of all citizens across the tornado belt, starting in the town of Joplin, Mo.

Learn more:

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