After the issuance of a tornado warning, residents have only thirteen minutes to seek shelter or a safe place. Someone close to home might be lucky since they can easily hide in the bathroom, closet, or under a sturdy object (like a sturdy table or working bench). However, all these may not provide maximum protection since strong winds exceeding 250 mph can easily lift a house off its foundation. Similarly, debris flying at speeds as high as 100 mph or more can easily break into the home’s windows and walls and cause harm.
That’s why most homeowners residing in tornado-prone areas now build safe rooms in their new or existing homes. A tornado safe room is a small windowless structure constructed and designed to specifically meet Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) guidelines, as outlined in their publication, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (FEMA P-320). According to FEMA, a safe room is a hardened structure built to provide close to absolute protection from the impacts of windstorms.
Are Safe Rooms Important?
Tornado safe spaces are crucial to everyone residing in the US, given that about 1253 tornadoes occur annually, with wind speeds of up to or exceeding 200 mph. Impacts of tornadoes, majorly from flying or falling debris, cause the death of about 60 people annually, with several escaping with injuries ranging from mild to severe. The majority of the victims are located either in permanent or mobile homes. As a result, building a tornado safe room is more of a necessity than an option since a properly built storm shelter offers close to total protection to its occupants.
Another bonus advantage of having tornado chambers in a home is that it increases the house’s value. According to Professor Kevin Simmons’ report (an economist with Austin College and the Federal Alliance for Safe Home), he found that homes with safe rooms had their value increase by an average of 3.5% or an equivalent worth of $4,200. Similarly, some states offer decent rebates to homeowners who chose to construct storm shelters and give them a discount on their homeowners’ insurance.
What is A Standard Safe Room?
The FEMA P-320 publication provides safe room designs. It illustrates homeowners and their contractors/builders or design professionals how to construct the structure for small businesses or homes. According to them, storm shelters can either be built either inside or close to the house. The criteria they require all safe rooms to meet are:
- To be anchored to the home’s foundation adequately to resist uplifting or overturning.
- A strong connection between all parts of the safe room to overcome failure during strong winds
- The door, roof, and walls are designed to overcome puncture by windborne missiles.
- The safe room walls are utterly distinct from the home’s structure. This will ensure that the chamber remains standing even when the storm destroys portions of the house around it.
What Material is best for a Safe Room?
A safe room’s walls and roofs can be constructed using different materials. These may include wood frames and steel sheathing combinations, reinforced concrete, concrete masonry infill, or reinforced concrete masonry. Typically, the doors are made of tested high-gauge steel to resist perforation by debris and high wind forces.