Before a tornado blew through Brandon a few years ago, there were not many storm shelter businesses in the area and not many people who were interested in buying any either.
Today, there are at least two storm shelter businesses in metro Jackson: Joe’s Concrete Storm Shelters and Tornado Shelters of Mississippi Inc., and others are located around the state.
Bobby Vickers, owner of Tornado Shelters of Mississippi Inc., said the tornado shelter business has been very interesting this year because of the amount of money the Federal Emergency Management Administration has piped into the state to help people buy safe rooms and shelters. About $4 million was brought into Mississippi to help people in 50 disaster-prone counties by providing 75% of the cost of a safe room or shelter.
“Once FEMA makes their decision, then it’s liable to be just a wild situation,” Vickers said.
This is the first time FEMA has offered assistance in Mississippi; they first offered it in Oklahoma. But with three weeks in a row of bad weather, not to mention the money coming in from FEMA, this has been a crazy year for Vickers and others in the storm shelter business in the state.
“Everyone’s kind of on pins and needles,” Vickers said. “It’s exciting. We’re still staying busy with people who weren’t involved in that (FEMA applications) who still want a shelter. When FEMA makes their decision we’ll find out how busy we’re going to be.”
After FEMA does make their decision, Vickers and others who manufacture, deliver and install storm shelters will have one year to get all the work done. Vickers said he has no idea if he will be providing 100 or 800 storm shelters to people all over the state.
Vickers was not always in the storm shelter business. He worked at Fowler Buick for 12 years and said he would probably still be there if it had not been for the recent tornado that hit Brandon.
“No one sold them (storm shelters or safe rooms) then,” he said. “I checked into it and I thought it would go. I never was afraid of a tornado until that one came through Brandon.”
Whether it is because of the increase in populations or just because of Mother Nature’s own decisions, tornadoes are seemingly more deadly and destructive than ever, Vickers said.
“You see these movies and they go out in cemeteries and you hear moaning, that’s what it was like,” he recalled of the aftermath of the Brandon tornado.
The tornado left Duncan Mobile Homes without even so much as a trailer standing, and went right through the Easthaven subdivision, leveling homes in its path.
“After that I started wanting a shelter,” Vickers said.
Vickers now travels statewide to deliver and install his storm shelters, which cost $4,500 installed and seat 12 adults. They are made of steel, with carpeting inside and a protective coating outside to keep the structure from rusting. Once in the ground, concrete is poured around the structure to help make it level.
“It’s an interesting business but it’s an up and down business. You might go three months and the phone doesn’t ring,” he said. “A lot of times it’s not on their priority list but I think everyone, especially people with kids, should have a shelter. Don’t put your kids in danger.”
Joe Lacey, owner of Joe’s Concrete Storm Shelters, started manufacturing concrete storm shelters last November. He builds the molds himself.
“You’d have to see them to believe it,” he said.
Lacey’s storm shelters cost $2,000 installed, and are basically modified septic tanks with doors and two vents. Already, Lacey has sold a few shelters. They measure seven feet tall and are big enough to fit 12 or 15 people inside, and they are so big and heavy Lacey has to build a special truck just to carry the tanks to customers.
“(People need to) be prepared in case a storm comes,” Lacey said. “I can’t believe I’m starting a business like this at my age.”
Vickers said when it comes to buying a storm shelter consumers should shop around – and the most important thing to remember?
“Don’t put your kids in danger,” he said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1042.