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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 10/22/15. David A. Roden, owner of Mountain View Estates, speaks about a tornado shelter that he built for his mobile home park residents in Rossville, Ga. Roden believes he is the first park owner in the southeast to offer residents a storm shelter.

David Roden slipped a business card out of his wallet and smiled.

The front is like any other business card. It lists the information that identifies Roden as the owner of Mountain View Estates, a mobile home park in Rossville, Ga.

But when he flips the card around, it becomes apparent that this is a unique business card and that Mountain View Estates is a unique mobile home park.

"IT'S HERE" is printed in bold, capital letters above a photo of a tornado shelter that looks exactly like the new concrete and steel shelter that was recently installed on a grassy knoll behind the main office at Mountain View Estates.

"It's a big investment," Roden said standing outside the cylindrical structure this week. "And it's one that we hope we never have to use."

The April tornadoes that devastated parts of the tri-state area but missed Mountain View Estates in 2011 left Roden wanting to protect his residents from the terror that could ensue if a tornado struck directly. He began researching tornado shelters, and to his surprise, he could not find another mobile home park that had one.

So he decided to set the trend here with the new FEMA-approved shelter that can protect all of Mountain View Estates' 125-plus residents — and their beloved pets — from winds of up to 250 miles per hour.

"It's peace of mind," said resident Sheila Rosenstein, who moved to the park from Baton Rouge, La., with her husband, Ben, about a year ago.

The shelter is welded and bolted to a concrete foundation and equipped with fans, lights, electricity and a backup generator in case the power goes out. Rows of plastic lawn chairs line the interior and a bathroom sits inside the back door.

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Shelter aims to protect mobile home residents in a twister

Walker County Emergency Management Agency director David Ashburn and fire chief Randy Camp both praised Roden for his innovation.

"It exceeded my expectations," said Camp, who met with Roden early in the process to ensure the shelter would meet county codes.

Residents seem mostly in favor of it, as well, even though they are helping foot the bill through a modest increase in their monthly lot rates.

"I'll put it this way," Roden said. "It cost well over six figures. But on the other hand, how much is your life and the life of your kids worth? We can rebuild homes and get another car, but you can't replace a life. It was after those storms in 2011 that we realized if we could do better, then we should do better."

Roden first considered an underground shelter but realized it would be challenging to get his residents who use wheelchairs down the steps into it.

So he started clearing a space for an above-ground shelter last year. He decided on one from Survive-A-Storm made totally of steel that is 56 feet long, 12 feet wide and 8 feet tall. The shelter and slab together weigh more than 200,000 pounds.

Some residents are comforted by its massive presence.

"I'd much rather have this than a swimming pool," Loretta Carroll said.

Roden said two mobile home park owners from Atlanta have already driven up to view the shelter, and a tornado drill for his residents is scheduled for next Saturday at noon. The hope is that the drill will reveal what problems exist with getting people into the shelter in a timely fashion.

Mountain View Estates residents are required to have a weather radio in their homes, and five residents will have keys to the shelter. In the event of a serious storm, a flashing strobe light at the front of the shelter will signal that it is open.

"It won't just be for any storm," Roden said. "We're not a lightning or rain shelter. We're a tornado shelter."

But perhaps there could be other uses for the building, too.

"We've been approached by a church about having something in here, maybe a movie night," Roden said with a chuckle. "We're not opposed to that, either."

Contact staff writer David W. Cobb at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter at DavidWCobb.