FEMA P-361 - Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms

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Cover of FEMA P-361This publication presents design, construction, and operation criteria for both residential and community safe rooms that will provide near-absolute life safety protection during tornado and hurricane events. It provides guidance for architects, engineers, building officials, local officials and emergency managers, and prospective safe room owners and operators about the design, construction, and operation of community safe rooms in extreme-wind events.

Since the publication of FEMA's pioneering guides for safe room design and construction, FEMA P-320 and FEMA P-361, our knowledge and practical experience in mitigating the risks associated with extreme events have expanded and developed substantially. Further, our research and understanding of these hazards and the extreme risks they present to our communities has been expanded. Using the initial FEMA publications as a pre-standard, design and construction professionals led by International Code Council® (ICC®) and the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) have joined forces to produce the first ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC-500). While fully supporting this effort, FEMA decided to continue to promote the new P-320 and P-361 criteria for those individuals and communities that are looking for "best practices" that are above the minimums prescribed in codes and standards, including the new ICC/NSSA standard. Download the entire FEMA P-361 document.

FEMA continues to advocate the design and construction of safe rooms as evidenced by its continuing support of safe room initiatives through several grant programs. Since the initiation of its safe room program, FEMA has provided federal funds totaling over $200 million for the design and construction of more than 500 community safe rooms. Through residential safe room initiatives over the same time, FEMA has provided support for the design and construction of nearly 20,000 residential safe rooms with federal funds totaling more than $50 million.

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Why is the term “safe room” being used instead of “shelter”?

The terms "safe room" and "shelter" have been used, for the most part, interchangeably in past publications. Typically the difference in usage was limited to differentiating between residential applications called "safe rooms" and larger projects called "community shelters." The release of the ICC-500 standard, as well as other national, state, and local protection initiatives, identified a need to distinguish shelters that meet the FEMA criteria for near-absolute protection and those that do not. Although both the FEMA and ICC criteria are designed to ensure life-safety protection for safe rooms and shelters that meet these criteria, only the FEMA criteria provides near-absolute protection from extreme wind events. To help clarify the difference between safe rooms design in FEMA P-320 and P-361 guidance, the term "safe room" applies to all shelters, buildings, or spaces designed to the FEMA criteria (whether for individuals, residences, small businesses, schools, or communities). This allows for the buildings, shelters, or spaces designed to the ICC-500 standard to be called shelters. All safe room criteria in the FEMA publications meet or exceed the shelter requirements of the ICC-500.

FEMA P-361 provides design criteria for all safe rooms; both community and residential. However, most of the discussion presented as commentary on the design criteria center on the purpose of creating protected space for large gatherings of people. For residential and small business applications, FEMA P-320 provides interpretations of the FEMA P-361 criteria in the form of prescriptive design solutions for up to 16 occupants from a natural hazard event. Read more about FEMA P-320.

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What is new in the Second Edition?

The first edition of FEMA P-361, released in July 2000, set forth design and construction criteria for tornado and hurricane shelters where none had existed before. These criteria were the basis of many community safe rooms that have been designed, constructed, and funded by FEMA since 2000. This second edition of FEMA P-361 continues to provide guidance in the design and construction of tornado and hurricane safe rooms by updating and expanding the recommendations and by referencing much of the newly-released ICC-500 Storm Shelter Standard. FEMA supports the development of hazard-resistant codes and standards through the monitoring of, and participation in the process of creating these documents, including the ICC-500.

Specifically, the following are new to the Second Edition of FEMA P-361:

  • All design criteria have been collected and presented in a single chapter - Chapter 3
  • New wind design criteria have been developed for hurricane-prone regions
  • The debris impact criteria, including the representative missile, have been revised
  • The criteria used for the prescriptive designs of FEMA P-320 are included
  • New commentary on the design criteria has been developed
  • New plans have been provided and guides to help safe room owners, operators, and emergency managers prepare operations and maintenance plans

You can view and download  FEMA P-361 and FEMA P-320 from the FEMA Library, or order a hard copy or CD-ROM from the FEMA Distribution Center. To order this or other publications please call 1-800-480-2520 or fax 1-240-699-0525 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. EST. You may also email your request to FEMA-Publications-Warehouse.  Please provide the title, item number, short number, and quantity of each publication, along with your name, address, zip code, and daytime telephone number.

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Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
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