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Shipping Containers and Tornados

18.04.2015 - Posted by Updated On 18.04.2015    

Protection in a tornado is vital to survival. Your family, friends, and possessions need to be in a secure, safe place in order to withstand the high winds and flying debris that a tornado creates. We've been asked several times if a shipping container would provide good protection for people and things when a tornado hits, and unfortunately there's no definitive answer.

First off, let's look at what we're up against: a tornado. Tornados don't behave like a common weather threat; they attack differently than fire, a thunderstorm, or even a high wind storm, all of which general have "local" damage.

  • Tornados do most of their damage around 10' above the ground.
  • Tornados pick things up and throw them, far.
  • Once inside a structure, tornados do a lot of damage.
  • The average speed of a tornado is 30mph, but they can range from 0 to 70mph.
tornado

Now, let's look at the best places to wait out a tornado. We checked out the National Weather Service website and here are a couple of tips relevant to our topic (the complete tornado safety article is here):

  • Underground, in a secure cellar or basement with no windows.
  • If you can't get to a basement, go indoors under the most secure part of the building that you can find, away from any windows. Think under the stairs, or in a small center bathroom, or even a bath tub.
  • In a school, go to an interior hallway. Again, away from windows.
  • If you're in a mobile home, get out. Even if it's attached to a permanent foundation it's a safe structure designed to withstand the strength of a tornado.

Next, if we think about shipping containers in general and tornados, we know that standard steel shipping containers don't have windows, which is a plus because no windows means the tornado can't come inside and start doing damage. Also, shipping containers are factory equipped with heavy, strong doors that can withstand a lot of events, also a plus.

To make the necessary improvements to a shipping container and have it a little closer to "tornado ready", the most extreme notion would be to bury it. However, burying a shipping container isn't as simple as digging a hole and dropping it in. That's been done before, and here's what happens when you bury a shipping container. Burying a container will require some more work, and you'll want to reinforce the walls to keep it from collapsing.

To keep a shipping container above ground, the next best solution would be to partially bury the container by pushing soil part way up the sides creating a burm that might help to reduce the surface area and prevent the container from being picked up by the tornado and tossed.

To secure the container to the ground the best solution would be to build concrete footings and anchor each corner of the container to the ground. Shipping containers come equipped with corner castings that allow them to be tied to one another, and in our tornado scenario the container could be fastened to the concrete footing.

corner castings

Before you say "but wait, isn't a shipping container essentially the same thing as a mobile home?" we'll address that question with a simple answer, no. A mobile home and a shipping container might be the same in shape, but that's where it ends. A mobile home is either a wood or aluminum framing sitting on a steel frame. The sides are typically vinyl siding, while the top is a standard trussed roof with asphalt shingles. A shipping container is a steel frame, top to bottom, with single sheets of steel on each side. In tornado terms, a mobile home has many weak spots where a tornado can attack and start to tear it apart. Under the eaves awnings, the individual pieces of vinyl siding, and the windows can be shredded quickly when a tornado hits. There are very few places where a tornado can peal apart a shipping container, because most of the pieces are solid and single sheets.

Final opinions: If a tornado is coming directly at you, no place is 100% safe. If you're thinking about using a shipping container to store your possessions, and possible yourself, there is some logic to the idea, but you need to properly prepare the container. Dropping it directly on the ground just isn't enough. Build up the ground around the container, anchor it down with concrete footings, and make sure everything is done to a professional level.

If you have any questions about shipping containers, or having them delivered to anywhere in the Midwest, we invite you to contact any of the sellers on ContainerAuction.com, or our staff directly. Our Chicago sellers and local container depots are able to deliver shipping containers to most places in the Midwest.



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