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Severe Weather Awareness-Why You Need an In House Safe Room or Outside Storm Shelter

Why You Need a Storm Shelter

In the United States there are approximately 1,200 tornadoes each year. Safe-T-Shelter has compiled the following notes on storm shelters and safe rooms for those of you thinking about safety in the wake of recent storms.

The US has the most tornadoes of any country in the world. Though we experience more than 1,200 each year, a busy year could see more than 1,500 tornadoes. The United States also has the strongest and most violent tornadoes of any country in the world because of our natural geography and size.

Assessing Your Risk / Tornado Preparedness
Building codes provide design data that offers guidance for weather, seismic, and other events. This weather data provides information like precipitation / snow loads and wind loads. No design guidelines for wind loads come close to the force exerted by severe weather events like tornadoes.  So, the major takeaway is easy.  Your home is not designed to withstand even a moderate tornado, to ensure your safety if a tornado strikes, you need a saferoom or storm shelter.

Basic wind speed information from the 2012 International Residential Code shows a wind speed of 90 mph for most of the US. Coastal areas receive higher wind speed ratings, up to 140 mph, because of hurricanes. Even moderate tornadoes like an F1 measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale can exceed the wind load used to design our houses across the majority of the country.

NOAA’s National Climactic Data Center publishes information on extreme weather events, including tornadoes. Some of the statistics are shocking. For example, few would have guessed that Florida experienced more tornadoes, by a wide margin, on average than any other southeastern state from 1991 to 2010?

You can also use records from NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center to assess the risk for your specific location. The data from the SPC is also startling – there were 758 tornadoes in the United States just during April 2011. In addition to information on tornadoes, you can find a multitude of weather and seismic events recorded on government websites to help you assess your risk.

Safe Room & Storm Shelter Standards

The Federal Emergency Management Agency publishes a series of construction standards for buildings in areas known for weather-related hazards like hurricanes and tornadoes. FEMA has published a saferoom standard for these extreme weather events. FEMA describes storm shelters and safe rooms as, “a hardened structure specifically designed to meet the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide ‘near-absolute protection’ in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes.”

Saferooms are typically above-ground rooms in your home. This is in contrast to a storm shelter that is often in a garage or even on a separate concrete pad elsewhere on your property. You can find FEMA’s guidance for saferooms in its P-320 “Taking Shelter from the Storm” document. Safe rooms and most storm shelters are designed for a small number of occupants that you’d expect in a home or small business. But at Safe-T-Shelter, we also produce shelters custom to any size requirement.  We can create a shelter to protect 1 or to protect 500+.  The ICC 500 standard from the International Code Council provides guidance for larger shelters that you’d expect for schools, municipalities, and commercial buildings.

Installing a safe room in an existing home can be a significant challenge because of the potential amount of demolition and structural work required, but many homes have locations under stairs, or walk in closets that can be retrofitted to perfectly contain a storm shelter, or allow for panels to be installed converting the existing structure into a perfectly safe solution. The room needs to be adequately connected to the structure and foundation of the house to resist the wind and other loads delivered in a weather event like a tornado or hurricane. Safe rooms are still best suited to be installed in the construction of a home, but don't let that deter you.  There are affordable solutions for everyone, that will allow for your family to be properly prepared for when the next storm strikes. 

If you’d like to add a shelter to your existing home, you can consider a prefabricated storm shelter or some modular designs like we discussed in the paragraph above.

While in previous years, the recommendation for storm shelters was for them to be installed underground, that is not longer the case.  New design standards and enhanced technologies have shifted thinking, and now aboveground storm shelters are the preferred solutions for a variety of reasons.  They have been tested to withstand winds and projectiles associated with EF5 winds, and do not pose the risks of entrapment and flooding that underground storm shelters do.  Additionally, above ground storm shelters are typically cheaper to install and build, meaning it will cost less to protect your family than ever before.

Municipalities across the country have also now created a storm shelter or safe room registry so they know to check each storm shelter to be sure people aren’t trapped inside. But having an above ground storm shelter means the likelihood of being trapped is much smaller, but you should still register your storm shelter with as many registry databases as possible. If your municipality doesn’t have a storm shelter registry, you should give more thought to where you locate your storm shelter access to reduce the potential of any obstruction limiting your ability to exit the stormshelter.

While some homes do have underground stormshelters, in garage storm shelters or basement storm shelters, if that is the route you choose to take, we highly recommend having the doors open exterior to the house.  If your home is destroyed, the last thing you want to have happen is have the house collapse on top of your exit from your storm shelter.  And even worse, if the water line breaks, and water enters your shelter, while you are unable to exit.  This is an unfortunate, and all too common reality when a large tornado strikes.

Another thing to consider before installing an underground storm shelter or underground safe room, is that access can be an issue when you need to use it.  The elderly, and those in a wheelchair might not be able to enter your shelter, defeating the purpose.  We recommend shelters that are wheelchair accessible, that have doors that are easy to open no matter a person's particular strength.   

Consider Your Pets
Don't forget to size your storm shelter to include your pets. It’s amazing to see how many people lose track of their pets when they’re separated during severe weather events. It’s also critical to have your pets microchipped so they can be identified and returned to you if you do become separated in a storm.

Tornado Shelters and Storm Shelters

Don't Wait, Pay Attention, and Utilize Your Storm Shelter Before it is Too Late.

Too many people rely on outdoor warning sirens to alert them though these are typically designed only to alert people who are outside – away from their weather radios. So please invest the $10 in a battery powered weather radio (be sure to change the batteries regularly, like a smoke alarm, each time the time changes).  There are also many apps that can be downloaded to your phone to provide additional coverage and alert you of weather events around your exact location.  But a warning is only beneficial if you act.  What’s the point of having a storm shelter if you don’t utilize it when you receive a warning?  Don't wait until the storm is moments away.  Camp out in your storm shelter or safe room, if necessary, until the threat has completely passed.  

You can also find active alerts on the National Weather Service website. This resource lets you check alerts by state so you can see weather event concerns even when you’re traveling.

Insurance Breaks?

It may be possible to get credit toward your premiums for code-plus construction that helps your home resist weather events, start by calling your agent.  

We also recommend that you inquire about flood insurance, even if you think you don’t need it. Weather events often include rain that can create flash flood events that aren’t covered under many home owner’s insurance policies, so ask about an addendum to your coverage. The fee increase would be nominal, but would protect you if something catastrophic happened.  We would hate for you to be in a situation where your home owner’s policy provider argues that damage was caused by water intrusion and is thus excluded from your standard coverage.

The Bottom Line, Why You Need a Storm Shelter

Many severe storms materialize with little, if any notice. There’s no time to pack up and escape, which means you need a better option than trying to ride out a tornado in your bathtub. Very few buildings are “storm proof,” but for a small investment, you can both protect your family and increase the value of your home. We can design and construct buildings that will protect you no matter how large the storm is, or how large your family is.

To protect your family from weather events, please consider starting with a narrow focus: a first aid kit, a weather radio and a storm shelter. 

If you need some help deciding the proper size or placement of a storm shelter / safe room, we are happy to consult with you for free to determine the best option for you and your family. 

Custom Tornado Shelters for any Amount of People

Excellent Communication. Great attention to detail, very attentive to our questions, and the delivery and install were faster than even expected!  We highly recommend Safe-T-Shelter.

Mr. Zeiler
Satisfied Customer

Above Ground Storm Shelters are Safer than Underground Storm Shelters

Above Ground Storm Shelters are the Safest Option

Popular opinion in many parts of the country is that when a tornado is bearing down on a community, the only safe place to take shelter is below ground. Joseph has found that this flies in the face of 15 years of research done at Texas Tech University’s National Wind Institute investigating the safety of above-ground storm shelters. He discusses findings from the Moore, OK, tragedy as well as several additional benefits of above-ground shelters. In addition, he shows video of TTU’s Debris Impact Facility firing 15-pound, 2″ by 4″ wood beams at 100 mph to show what tornadic debris can do to a normal home and how a storm shelter keeps occupants safe.

Following the recent devastating tornadoes we heard from many of you asking how to be certain a safe room will keep your family safe through a large tornado.

Alex Ryan was there when the EF-5 tornado barreled into Birmingham.

“When you see a tornado that is that big you have no choice. It’s either find cover or die,” he said.

John Melton also rode out the storm. He and his family didn’t have a safe room so they took to their cellar.

“We locked the cellar door when we saw it coming and it got louder and the next thing you know you see the latch coming undone and you couldn’t reach for it and it ripped open the door. Glass and debris started slamming on us,” John said.

The Meltons all survived but many people have asked us in the wake of the deadly storms which type of safe room is best.  We have made, and installed both for 21+ years, so we have a unique perspective with evidence to support our stance.

Amidst the debris in the path of the EF-5 tornado that tore through Alabama we found safe rooms that survived; both above and below ground.

But we wanted to know whether above or below ground is safest because just as the Alabama tornado began to hit, people were being told the only safe place to be is underground.

FEMA says in the right safe room your family will have near absolute protection even in storms whipping up to 250 miles per hour.

Nathan Evans and his family took to their safe room as the deadly Huntsville tornado descended on them.

“Usually the ones that come around here they kind of come close but never had a direct hit,” said Nathan.

This time it was a direct hit.

The storm sucked the door open on the family’s underground safe room.

“It was scary in respect that I thought I might lose someone in my family.”

It’s a worst case scenario: 250 mph wind with flying debris.

Could above ground safe rooms /  above ground storm shelters hold as well? 

To find out we traveled to the Texas Tech Wind Research Center. At the facility in Lubbock, Texas scientists use a wind cannon to launch wood and metal to simulate wind and damaging storm debris. It can produce EF-5 level tornado damage.

The cannon simulates wind of 250 mph. The researchers line up a safe room to take the hits with objects including 2×4’s fired at the shelter’s most vulnerable spots such as away from studs and into the door.  A storm shelter would be considered a failure if the steel is pushed inward more than three inches.

The cannon fires a series of EF-5 level shots. The safe room performs perfectly.

Barely any evidence of impact exists on the tornado shelter, no holes and the door remains sealed. The shelter would also remain attached to the ground during a tornado. Huge, specially-made bolts driven into at least 4 inches of concrete prevent this shelter from being picked up or pushed over.

A lot of individuals can’t go underground (and we further discuss what to do if an underground shelter is not an option here). Some have underground shelters, but they aren’t able to get into those shelters when the storm hits, or as a result of an array of factors, an underground storm shelter is not possible where they live.  Above ground storm shelters are easier and less expensive to install, which makes them more accessible to consumers.

So now, back to our question — which is superior?  Above or below ground storm shelters?

Larry Tanner, research associate at the Wind Research Center, says most importantly your safe room must be designed and built to FEMA guidelines.

“They’re all safe if they are tested products,” said Tanner.  And all our tornado shelters are tested.

However, in a below ground safe room you face the risk of debris blocking the exit, or flooding (when a tornado demolishes a home, it typically exposes a water line that can and often does lead to flooding in underground storm shelters).

The good news: No one has ever been killed in an approved above ground storm shelter.

And after seeing video footage of cars picked up and tossed by tornadoes many people ask whether above ground safe rooms will stand up to cars falling out of the sky?

Tanner says safe rooms built to FEMA guidelines handle a 3,000 pound vehicle being dropped on them no problem.

“The 57 Cadillac draping over the sides of the shelter. That’s virtually what we see all the time,” Tanner said.

The bottom line, based on a plethora of evidence, is that above ground storm shelters are the best option to protect you and your loved ones.
Above Ground Storm Shelters

A Residential Storm Shelter Offers Unmatched Storm Protection, and Peace of Mind.

Why You Need a Storm Shelter and What to do if You Do Not Have One!

Storm Shelters, Safe Rooms, and Tornado Shelters

A reinforced safe room (or above-ground tornado shelter) is as good as an underground shelter. Residential Safe rooms are specially-designed reinforced tornado shelters built into homes, schools and other buildings. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (or FEMA), in close cooperation with experts in wind engineering and tornado damage, has developed detailed guidelines for constructing a safe room and the storm shelters built by Safe-T-Shelter meet or exceed those specifications.

If No Reinforced Storm Shelter is Available

If you’re like most people, you don’t have a residential tornado shelter. In this case, you need to find a location that is…

  • As close to the ground as possible
  • As far inside the building as possible
  • Away from doors, windows and outside walls
  • In as small of a room as possible

If you don’t have a saferoom, basement, panic room, above ground storm shelter, or underground storm shelter, what should you do? Remembering the basics of tornado safety, you should look around your home to determine the best place.  You should also seek out community storm shelters in you city or municipality before a storm threatens your community.

Alternate Ideas if a Storm is Coming and You Don’t have a Safe Room

  • Bathrooms

    Bathrooms MAY be a good shelter, provided they are not along an outside wall and have no windows. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing magically safe about getting in a bathtub with a mattress. In some cases, this might be a great shelter. However, it depends on where your bathroom is. If your bathroom has windows and is along an outside wall, it’s probably not the best shelter.

    Bathrooms have proven to be adequate tornado shelters in many cases for a couple of reasons. First, bathrooms are typically small rooms with no windows in the middle of a building. Secondly, it is thought that the plumbing within the walls of a bathroom helps to add some structural strength to the room.

    However, with tornadoes there are no absolutes, and you should look closely at your home when determining your shelter area.

  • Closets

    A small interior closet might be a shelter. Again, the closet should be as deep inside the building as possible, with no outside walls, doors or windows. Be sure to close the door and cover up.

  • Hallways

    If a hallway is your shelter area, be sure to shut all doors. Again, the goal is to create as many barriers as possible between you and the flying debris in and near a tornado. To be an effective shelter, a hallway should as be far inside the building as possible and should not have any openings to the outside (windows and doors).

  • Under Stairs

The space underneath a stairwell could be used as a shelter.

If you Live in an Apartment without a Tornado Shelter, Storm Shelter, Safe Room, or Panic Room

The basic tornado safety guidelines apply if you live in an apartment. Get to the lowest floor, with as many walls between you and the outside as possible.

Apartment dwellers should have a plan, particularly if you live on the upper floors. If your complex does not have a reinforced storm shelter, you should make arrangements to get to an apartment on the lowest floor possible.

In some cases, the apartment clubhouse or laundry room may be used as a shelter, provided the basic safety guidelines are followed. You need to have a shelter area that’s accessible at all times of the day or night.