In 2011, John Kelly heard story after story from his neighbors and friends about their loved ones being terrified and having nowhere safe to go during the tornadoes that struck Hamilton County and the surrounding region. As cleanup in the community began, Kelly and his friends Scott and Brent Goulart decided to change that in case there was a next time.
Safe Haven Storm Shelters first got off the ground in March 2012. Since then, the business owners have worked hard to ensure their locally sourced, locally made storm shelters warrant the kind of peace of mind they hoped to be able to provide, Kelly said.
"I wanted to be able to protect our neighbors," he said. "We all grew up here, and we want to help people in our community."
FEMA's requirements for storm shelters grade on everything from access to emergency supplies; the strength of the bolts anchoring the shelter to the ground; how walls and doors hold up against flying debris; being waterproof in case of hurricanes or floods; and more.
One of the most significant tests storm shelters must pass is being impregnable to impact from debris during a tornado. Safe Haven's shelters were tested successfully against category EF5 tornado winds, which can be in excess of 220 mph. The storms that struck the Chattanooga area in 2011 were largely categories EF3 and EF4, with wind speeds around 175 mph.
Just as not all tornadoes will be an EF5 — only 1 percent of all tornadoes are categorized as such, according to The Weather Channel — not all shelters must be built to withstand EF5 winds, according to FEMA guidelines. However, ensuring Safe Haven's shelters went above and beyond mandated standards was of the utmost importance to Kelly.
He spent much of 2016 flying back and forth to the National Wind and Debris Institute in Texas to watch his shelters undergo five separate tests.
Safe Haven's shelters are one of only two designs in the country with sliding doors that passed FEMA's extensive testing regimen, he said.
Safe Haven's shelters are built in Sale Creek, and to Kelly's knowledge, his is the only locally made storm shelter manufacturer in the region.
Considering what an important and expensive purchase a storm shelter is, he likened it to buying a car.
"You're not going to want to buy a car without seeing it first and kicking the tires a bit," Kelly said.
Being local enables Safe Haven's customers to stop by the warehouse on Cromwell Road to see and touch what they're considering buying to protect them during a dangerous storm.
Safe Haven's standard shelter measures four by six feet and stands six feet tall. That model sells for around $5,500, with additional fees for installation. Larger and smaller shelters are also available.
To check out or learn more about Safe Haven's shelters, visit safehavenstormshelters.com or call 320-5867. To see them in person, swing by the Chattanooga Tri-State Home Show, where Safe Haven will have one of its shelters on display to the public March 10-12. The company's warehouse, located at 4129 Cromwell Road, also has shelters on display.