After that dread, mile-wide tornado leveled homes and towns in Oklahoma, people are asking why every town in the so-called “tornado belt” (about half the United States) is not required to have a Safe Room where people can try to hide out from monster storms. Such a building requirement would add a lot to the cost of homes, but wouldn’t it save enough lives to be worth it?
There are many cases where we want people to act rationally about a remote threat, and it takes a lot of analysis to understand that the people have already voted, and their actions are already rational. To illustrate the tornado-belt situation, I want to remind you of another building requirement:
In much of Israel, every home was required to have a Safe Room that people could stay in during a SCUD Missile attack. The government provided many citizens with gas masks to wear in the Safe Room. The Safe Rom requirement added cost to building requirements. It must have raised the rent of countless apartments. Israel’s citizen’s accepted this requirement. Were they acting more rationally than Oklahomans?
For Israel, the Safe Room represented a patriotic duty. Its people were saying to the missile firers, You can do some damage, but you’ll hardly main or kill anyone. The Safe Rooms were a duty of pride.
If Oklahoma were to require Safe Rooms in every building, I think they would be sending a different message to Oklahomans: A tornado may come and destroy your home, level your town and leave you with nothing. But you are more likely to survive. That is not a patriotic message. It is a message of despair. I think that anyone who lives in the tornado belt hopes to be spared. Malevolent as they are, tornadoes attack only a small percentage of the population. People do not plan to be desperate, at a considerable extra cost.
If there was a tornado-defusing machine that sucked the force out of any nearby tornado, I suspect that many Oklahomans would be happy to pay extra taxes to have one near their home. That would be a positive message of defiance.