The loss of life in Oklahoma is tragic - perhaps even more so considering how few homes, businesses and schools take steps to protect against strong storms.
But no local ordinance or building code requires such shelters, either in houses, schools or businesses, and only about 10 percent of homes in Moore have them.
Nor does the rest of Oklahoma, one of the states in the storm belt called Tornado Alley, require them — despite the annual onslaught of deadly and destructive twisters like the one on Monday, which killed at least 24 people, injured hundreds and eliminated entire neighborhoods.
It is a familiar story, as well, in places like Joplin, Mo., and across the Great Plains and in the Deep South, where tornadoes are a seasonal threat but government regulation rankles.
People don't think until it is too late - and before then we fight regulation as it seems expensive and this isn't going to happen to us.
It also happens with auto safety. Cars are remarkable in being able to accommodate a wide variety of driver sizes. The problem is they only are designed to a very limited number of references dummies - namely a 5'9 170 pound male and a 5'0 100 pound female and only in frontal collisions. The cars are tested for other collisions, but it isn't clear what happens with larger and smaller people. It is a particular problem as the population gets heavier.
At the lower end of the range you have to worry about smaller passengers. Poorly positioned belts can cause serious harm. It turns out standarized booster seats can help a lot (the paper is not behind a paywall) for kids up to about 4'9.
Booster Seat Laws and Fatalities in Children 4 to 7 Years of Age
OBJECTIVE: To determine whether state booster seat laws were associated with decreased fatality rates in children 4 to 7 years of age in the United States.
METHODS: Retrospective, longitudinal analysis of all motor vehicle occupant crashes involving children 4 to 7 years of age identified in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System from January 1999 through December 2009. The main outcome measure was fatality rates of motor vehicle occupants aged 4 to 7 years. Because most booster laws exclude children 6 to 7 years of age, we performed separate analyses for children 4 to 5, 6, and 7 years of age.
RESULTS: When controlling for other motor vehicle legislation, temporal and economic factors, states with booster seat laws had a lower risk of fatalities in 4- to 5-year-olds than states without booster seat laws (adjusted incidence rate ratio 0.89; 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.81–0.99). States with booster seat laws that included 6-year-olds had an adjusted incidence rate ratio of 0.77 (95% CI 0.65–0.91) for motor vehicle collision fatalities of 6-year-olds and those that included 7-year-olds had an adjusted incidence rate ratio of 0.75 (95% CI, 0.62–0.91) for motor vehicle collision fatalities of 7-year-olds.
CONCLUSIONS: Booster seat laws are associated with decreased fatalities in children 4 to 7 years of age, with the strongest association seen in children 6 to 7 years of age. Future legislative efforts should extend current laws to children aged 6 to 7 years.
Perhaps car interiors will become more adaptive to their occupants. Already some airbag designs note the seat position of the driver and take that into account when deploying and some belts have an airbag incorporated inside.
But knowing of a problem and a solution that isn't terribly expensive - school storm shelters in the tornado belt for example - strikes one as being penny wise and pound foolish. The same can be said for the current and upcoming cuts in NOAA storm prediction.