Buell Hulsey didn’t understand why one April morning a few years back, his lawn was covered in snow.
Wait, not snow.
It was the insulation from someone’s home. And a piece of someone’s roof — all dropped on his Hixson doorstep by a tornado.
Hulsey decided he needed a storm shelter.
What he got was an above-ground, steel shelter from Chattanooga-based Safe Haven Storm Shelter.
Storm shelters have become popular here since April 2011, when deadly storms and tornadoes ripped apart nearby communities in Ringgold, Apison, Cleveland and Dayton.
But despite the tragedy which gave rise to the trend, the demand has provided jobs and the grounds for a brand-new business for three local entrepreneurs, John Kelly, Scott Goulart and Brent Goulart.
In the wake of the 2011 storms, the three men spotted both opportunity and need, so they decided to go into business together. They pooled their resources — about $10,000 — and founded Safe Haven Storm Shelters in March 2012.
Safe Haven specializes in providing above-ground storm shelters, rather than traditional below-ground models.
Some yards will not accommodate an in-ground model because of space or water run-off. But Safe Haven co-founder Kelly said almost any concrete surface can handle one of Safe Haven’s above-ground shelters.
Safe Haven’s units are manufactured nearby, in Fayetteville, Tenn., by Storm Guard Shelters.
After manufacture, Storm Guard shelters go to Texas Tech University, home to one of the nation’s leading storm shelter research labs, where they undergo a series of tests, including a debris impact test, to ensure their safety.
Kelly said the shelters exceed the requirements laid down by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and that he doesn’t know of any Storm Guard shelters failing the tests.
But he doesn’t completely rest on the shelters alone.
Kelly said Safe Haven uses a dozen-plus anchor bolts, when one would be sufficient to keep a 2,000-pound unit anchored to the ground.
“It doesn’t cost a lot to put an extra bolt or two in,” he said. “One bolt would hold it down, but we use 17 of them.”
Jesse Fowler, of East Ridge, is convinced since he had a Safe Haven shelter installed a few months ago.
His home does not have a basement, and his yard will not accommodate an in-ground shelter, so he had one installed in his garage.
He watched from the window as the April 2011 storms ravage his neighbors’ homes.
“I said, ‘Sandra, we’re going to something. We’re not going to do this anymore,'” he remembers telling his wife.
He, like Hulsey, wandered into Northgate Mall one day and stumbled upon the Safe Haven demo shelter on display.
“I said, ‘I want one,'” he remembers.
Fowler doesn’t regret the cost of installing the storm shelter because it provides a certain peace-of-mind.
“If those screws come out of the ground, East Ridge isn’t going to be here,” he said this week.
And he said if a tornado comes through his living room, “I’m fairly certain that I’m going to be sitting in that little metal room out there.”