After the 2011 tornado outbreak the devastated parts of the Chattanooga metro area, John Kelly wanted to help people, including his friend's grandmother, be safe during storms.
"We got to looking on line, trying to find someone that could get her a shelter, and there was nobody local," says Kelly.
So he and his friend, Scott Goulart founded Safe Haven Storm Shelters. Initially they only sold and installed the units, but they were built by someone else in a different part of the state. After a few years they wanted more control of the business and to use their own design
After vigorous testing it passed FEMA regulations with flying colors, withstanding debris impacts from a simulated EF-5 tornado.
"They're made of 3/16" steel plates," explains Kelly. "We reinforce them with 2.5" square tubing and a 2" angle all around the top of the unit to make sure that if something falls on it it's not going to crush it."
The unique sliding door makes for easy access and the unit is securely bolted into a concrete slab. Kelly says Safe Haven is one of only two companies in the country to have this design pass the testing.
Buell Hulsey was one of Safe Haven's original customers. It was an easy decision to make after the tornadoes sent debris into his Hixson neighborhood, all the way from Ringgold, Georgia according to Hulsey.
"I looked back at the front of my house and I said there's a big old piece of paper that landed on my doorstep. I got up there and it was half a sheet of plywood with a nail sticking up out of it. That had something to do with me getting that storm shelter," says Hulsey.
Since February of 2017 Kelly and Goulart have been running the business on their own terms and new orders are coming in. Everything operates from Hamilton County.
"There's no middle man," adds Kelly. "We order the material locally. We build it locally. We hire the local people."
Right now the labor is being done by local contractors, but Kelly hopes to have his own manufacturing facility and his own builders by the end of the year. He's been able to lower the prices of most of the models by about $1,000. The average price is about $6,000. The smallest unit holds 3-5 people, the largest around 12.