John and Laura Perone thought a big steel box would be a good investment.

They bought one in 2015 and put it in the garage of their Galena home, not realizing they were part of a growing trend.

"We told ourselves, 'This is a really good deal. We'd better step up to the plate here,' " said John Perone, 67.

He and his wife, Laura, 65, had purchased a "safe room." It's designed to withstand winds of up to 150 mph and act as a short-term haven during severe weather.

The Perones, who are retired, live next to a wide-open area that gets more than a bit breezy at times.

"Wind just comes whipping through here," John Perone said.

They were almost surely going to invest in the safe room before they heard about a federal program that allows rebates of up to 75 percent of the room's cost, capped at $4,875.

That clinched it for them.

The program is administered by the Ohio Emergency Management Agency on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. All of the rebate money is provided by the federal government, said Jay Carey, spokesman for the Ohio EMA.

The program is in its sixth year. In the first five, the Perones were among 129 homeowners to take part. Now, another 233 are awaiting approval or are in the process of constructing their rooms.

The deadline to apply for the rebate this year is 5 p.m. March 19.

The safe rooms are popular, Carey said, because tornadoes can and do roar through Ohio.

"We have an awful lot of tornadoes. We are on the eastern edge of Tornado Alley," Carey said.

Ohio averages 17 tornadoes per year, Carey said, but last year it had that many on one day -- Nov. 5. Nationally, FEMA says, the United States averages 800 tornadoes a year that kill about 80 people and injure 1,500.

High winds cause more damage in Ohio than any other act of nature except flooding, Carey added.

As with plenty of issues involving government, the program has many requirements.

First, signing up doesn't mean a person qualifies. Each year, the Ohio EMA randomly picks between 50 and 100 applicants to be eligible for the rebate. Those applicants then attend a mandatory two-hour meeting to learn about the requirements to qualify for the rebate. The rooms must follow specific rules developed by FEMA and the National Storm Shelter Association.

Safe rooms already completed, for example, are ineligible. And the safe rooms have to be paid for before owners even qualify for rebates.

"Each file winds up being an inch thick," Carey said.

The safe rooms can be concrete or steel, above ground or below.

John and Laura Perone picked out their safe-room design and tried in 2015 to get a permit to install it.

"The most problem I had was with the county of Delaware because this was the first (shelter) in the county," John said. "I made the mistake of going in the morning before he'd had his coffee or something."

He didn't get the permit, but he later called the safe room's manufacturer and chose another design. Then he tried again to get a permit.

"I go after lunch, so he had his belly full," John quipped. "I really thought this out."

After paying the $178 fee, John Perone had his permit.

Within a month, the steel box -- 4 feet wide, 6 feet deep and 6 feet tall -- was bolted to the garage's concrete floor. It barely fit under the Perones' 7-foot-1-inch garage ceiling.

"It's like a big closet," John Perone said.

Delivered and installed, the safe room cost the couple $5,480. They got the 75 percent rebate of $4,110, making the final cost $1,370.

"The whole thing was a very, very smooth operation," John Perone said.

He and Laura stocked it with cases of water, flashlights, food bars and a 5-gallon bucket for a bathroom.

"Thankfully," he added, "we've not had to use it."

To be considered for the rebate program, visit