Natural Hazard Mitigation Association
Doing More with Less:
Mitigation in a Changing Environment
2012 International Hazard Mitigation Practitioners Workshop
July 17-18, 2012
Omni Interlocken Resort
Broomfield, Colorado

Quick Table of Contents
Detailed Table of Contents
Download as PDF file 

Track 3: Mitigation Success Stories

Session Title: The Role of Private / Nonprofit Sector Innovation in Mitigation

Date/Time:      Wednesday, July 18, 2012    10:15-11:30 am

Moderator:     Tim Lovell, Executive Director, Tulsa Partners, Inc.


  • Tom Bennett, Past President, National Storm Shelter Association
  • Elizabeth English, Associate Professor, School of Architecture, University of Waterloo
  • Sheryl Siddiqui, Co-Chair, Language and Culture Bank, Tulsa Partners, Inc.

Recorder:        Ann Patton, Owner, Ann Patton Company, LLC

 Tim Lovell introduced the session by saying that this session would highlight the challenges and successes of private and nonprofit sector innovators in the mitigation field.  Panelists will focus on how innovation fostered by the public, private, and nonprofit sectors can assist in meeting the environmental and hazard mitigation challenges faced by local communities.


Tom Bennett explained that he is past president of the National Storm Shelter Association, executive producer of weather programs for KOTV in Tulsa, and owner of a company that manufactures and sells SafeRooms, Jim Giles SafeRooms.  He described the evolution of SafeRoom technology through a combination of public, private, and nonprofit actions over the past 40 years.

Bennett said the story of SafeRooms starts in 1970 when an F5 tornado hit Lubbock, TX.  The devastation inspired Dr. Ernst Kiesling and others at Lubbock’s Texas Tech University to set out on a life-long search for ways to increase life safety and reduce losses from tornadoes.  He said that at that time, people believed tornado wind speeds were so intense that it would never be possible to design a building that could withstand a tornado.  He said for many years, Dr. Kiesling’s teams studied tornadoes intently and dispatched research teams for field investigations after more than 25 tornadoes, leading to a key observation that small interior bathrooms or closets were most likely to survive the storm.  He said Dr.  Kiesling designed an engineered version of that small interior room – a SafeRoom, specially anchored and armored to withstand even the strongest tornado, and designed to actually allow the house to separate from the SafeRoom if needed.  He said these SafeRooms can be built inside, outside, or under a building.

Bennett showed an aerial photo of the 2011 Joplin tornado, including an above-ground SafeRoom in which people survived the storm.  He also showed photos of community SafeRooms and shelters, including those in Alabama and Mississippi and noted that interest in SafeRooms is now international in scope.


Elizabeth English said her work has focused on building resilience with amphibious foundation architecture, buildings that normally rest on dry land but actually rise and float on the surface during floods.  She said she named her work the “Buoyant Foundation Project,” founded in 2006 in New Orleans.  She said this type of construction could be used, for example, in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, which she said was more culturally appropriate than the static alternative which would be elevated with long staircases, because floating home design could preserve the area’s front porch culture and could be used for new construction or retrofits.

English said the buildings become free-floating pontoons, tethered for stability like a floating dock, and include three elements: buoyancy blocks inserted under the house, vertical guidance, and a tie to stabilize the building.  She stated that the system can be used in areas of still rising water, not flowing water, and is not intended for coastal areas subject to storm surge.  She built a prototype in 2007.  She showed examples in rural Louisiana fishing camps and summer cottages, the Netherlands, on the Thames River in the UK, and in Bangladesh.  One version uses plastic water bottles for buoyancy.  She said the system is passive and very simple and long-lasting, without batteries or electrical systems.  She said that people may want to disconnect utilities.  She added that the floating house would not be an alternative to evacuation in areas where people should evacuate.


Sheryl Siddiqui said the Tulsa Language and Culture Bank is a program of Tulsa Partners Inc., a nonprofit organization working to create a disaster-resilient, sustainable community.  She said TLCB is a grassroots group of volunteers who are working to make sure that everyone, even those who don’t speak English or have disabilities, gets lifesaving warning and preparedness information.  Siddiqui said the group connects bilingual and multi-cultural volunteers to agencies working with Tulsans whose ability to receive this lifesaving information may be compromised by cultural, ethnic, or religious traditions or language.  She explained that, in addition to translating the messages into many different languages, including sign language, the TLCB produces information pieces with representatives of the various cultures – so a preparedness message for Hispanics would be in Spanish and delivered by someone Hispanic, for example.  “In times of stress like disasters, people are often looking for somebody who looks like them for information and comfort,” she said.

Siddiqui said the philosophy that guides the TLCB is that every Tulsan should get life-saving information in a medium they can understand, and in time to save their own life.  She said the group is preparing themselves first, then their communities.  She said volunteers take extensive training in subjects such as FEMA protocols and interpretation, with a goal of becoming field-ready volunteers.  She explained the group is also building bridges of understanding across cultures, but their focus is on disaster-related issues.  “We’re not trying to do everything for everybody,” she said.  “We’re in the information and connections business.”  In response to audience questions, she agreed to share messages developed by the TLCB with other communities.

next  page