Homes Built on Slabs Less Safe in Tornadoes

The Kohl Construction condo proposal for the North Street woods calls for siting the buildings on slabs – no basements. We’ve objected to this on the grounds that slab homes tend to be less durable, less energy efficient, and more susceptible to flood damage than homes with basements. Slab homes would also be out of character with the homes around them on North Street.

In light of the tornadoes that recently devastated Western Massachusetts, we’d like to highlight another objection: slab homes are less safe in violent storms. As Monster Constructors of Texas warns,

Homes built on slabs often offer little protection during tornadoes or hurricanes, unless a special masonry or concrete safe room is built within the house.
Station KWTX elaborates on the value of basements when high winds approach:
Go to the basement, if there is one.
Almost all serious injuries and deaths caused by tornadoes are the result of blunt force trauma, i.e. impact injuries caused by objects moving at very high speed (due to the wind speeds associated with tornadoes) striking the individual. Tornadoes (and sometimes, very strong straight-line winds) contain a debris field (composed of wood, metal, plastic, etc.) generated by what the tornado or wind encountered before getting to the victim. The very best way to avoid being struck by this debris field is to be below ground! That’s why the number one tornado safety rule is to take shelter in a basement of your home or whatever building you are in, if a tornado approaches. If you are fortunate enough to have access to a basement, there’s another safety rule: take shelter in the basement by getting under a sturdy bench or table, if there is one. The idea is to protect yourself from falling debris, should a portion of the house or building collapse into the basement.
It’s true that with the seasonal high water table at the proposed condo site just 14-16″ down in some places (PDF), it’s hard to build basements that will stay dry. That’s a reason not to build homes there, rather than put future residents at risk.