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Indiana requires radios in mobile homes

Indiana lawmakers are forcing mobile home owners to buy $30 radios to help prevent future tornado casualties.
/ Source: The Associated Press

As a deadly tornado bore down on southwestern Indiana in 2005, the National Weather Service issued a radio warning urging people in the twister's path to seek shelter.

But many of the most vulnerable residents didn't hear the alert because they had no radios equipped to receive it. That will change Sunday when Indiana enacts a law requiring mobile homes to have weather radios.

"My family would be here had I known that weather radios existed," said Kathryn Martin, who pushed heavily for the reform after the tornado shattered the Eastbrook Mobile Home Park and killed dozens of people, including three of her relatives.

The Indiana tornado hit before dawn on Nov. 6, 2005, with winds estimated around 200 mph. Twenty of the storm's 25 victims were in mobile homes on the outskirts of Evansville, where emergency officials said few had radios or access to shelters.

The Indiana General Assembly responded last year by passing the weather-radio proposal with overwhelming support. The legislation was dubbed "C.J.'s Law" in honor of Martin's 2-year-old son, C.J. Martin, the twister's youngest victim.

A similar effort is under way on the federal level to make the radios a requirement nationwide.

'One more safety precaution'
The radios, which cost about $30, operate on frequencies dedicated exclusively to the weather service. Officials say they often broadcast warnings before regular radio and television stations.

Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the southern Indiana sheriff directing rescue efforts at Eastbrook, introduced legislation last week that would require manufacturers to build mobile homes with the radios installed.

"It's one more safety precaution we can take, no different from smoke detectors," Ellsworth said.

More than 20 million Americans live in mobile housing, according to census estimates. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found that the fatality rate for residents of mobile homes is 10 times greater than those in permanent homes with fixed foundations.

The Manufactured Housing Institute in Washington, D.C., a trade association representing mobile home manufacturers, has said Indiana's law and the federal proposal fall short by failing to require radios in every building.

'You have to know'
A tornado last month in Kansas killed 12 people and leveled the farming community of Greensburg. Another twister in Enterprise, Ala., killed eight students when it ripped apart a school in March.

Bruce Savage, an institute spokesman, said tornadoes do not discriminate between buildings.

"They certainly could have benefited from a weather radio," Savage said of the students who died. "So why not make the bill really cover and provide adequate warning to everybody?"

Martin said she doesn't understand resistance to making weather radios a requirement. "You have to know that the storm is coming," she said.

The Indiana regulation is one of hundreds of new laws taking effect July 1, when most states begin their fiscal year. The rules offer a glance at states' top worries and priorities, such as crime, taxes and social policies.

Among them are new efforts to encourage alternative energy in Nevada and Minnesota, tougher rules against illegal immigrants in Georgia and Idaho, and a higher minimum wage in several states.