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.
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.
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.
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.