Frequently Asked Questions: Tornado/Hurricane Safe Rooms

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Below are frequently asked questions regarding FEMA residential and community safe rooms guidance. If you need additional information, please contact the FEMA Safe Room Helpline by email at saferoom@fema.dhs.gov or by calling 866-927-2104.

Please find additional frequently asked questions regarding wind mitigation at the Building Science FAQS page.

GENERAL
Q1. What is a safe room? What are the design requirements for a FEMA safe room?
Q2. What is the difference between a small community safe room and a community safe room? 
Q3. Should I have a safe room?

NEED FOR A SAFE ROOM
Q4. My house has a basement. Do I need a safe room? 
Q5. Do any local jurisdictions require safe rooms?

GRANTS
Q6. Where can I find information about obtaining FEMA funding to construct a safe room? Are there any funds available in my area? 
Q7. Can I still apply for FEMA funding after I have begun construction of a safe room or purchased a safe room? 
Q8. What costs are eligible for funding under a safe room grant? 
Q9. How do I check the status of my safe room grant application?

CERTIFICATION
Q10. Does FEMA approve, endorse, or certify any products? 
Q11. Does FEMA verify or certify design calculations published by manufacturers for their products? 
Q12. Can a contractor be certified by FEMA to install FEMA safe rooms?

DESIGN
Q13. What is the recommended square footage per person for a tornado community safe room? 
Q14. What is the recommended square footage per person for a hurricane community safe room? 
Q15. What is the recommended square footage per person for a residential tornado and hurricane safe room?

COST
Q16. What is the cost of installing a safe room in a new home or small business?

CONSTRUCTION OPTIONS
Q17. Can I install a safe room in an existing home? 
Q18. As a homeowner, can I build the safe room on my own? 
Q19. Where is the best location for the safe room? 
Q20. Is an underground safe room safer than one above ground?

LOCATION RESTRICTIONS
Q21. Are there any restrictions for the location of a FEMA community safe room? 
Q22. Are there any restrictions for the location of a FEMA residential safe room?

GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES
Q23. Besides FEMA guidance, what other codes and standards apply to safe rooms? 
Q24. What design guidance should be used when questions arise pertaining to criteria or requirements not addressed by FEMA P-320, FEMA P-361, or ICC-500? 
Q25. Where can I download the prescriptive design drawings referenced in FEMA P-320? 
Q26. Where can I find additional information and plans for safe room construction? 
Q27. Can I change the prescriptive plans in FEMA P-320 to meet my specific needs?

APPROVALS AND INSPECTIONS
Q28. Is there a FEMA approval process for the construction of safe rooms? 
Q29. What should I do if I am unsure a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA P-320 or FEMA P-361 criteria? 
Q30. Are inspections required? 
Q31. Who do I contact to inspect my safe room?

DOORS AND EGRESS
Q32. What forces should a safe room door be designed to resist? 
Q33. Where do I find the doors and hardware for my in-residence shelter? 
Q34. Should the door of a safe room swing inward or outward? 
Q35. How should I prepare for the possibility of a safe room door becoming blocked by debris after a tornado event? 
Q36. Is it permissible to install locking devices on safe room door handles/knobs?

References and Resources 

GENERAL

Q1. What is a safe room? What are the design requirements for a FEMA safe room?

A1. A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet FEMA criteria and provide "near-absolute protection" in extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. The level of protection provided by a safe room is a function of its design parameters, specifically the design wind speed and resulting wind pressure and the wind-borne debris load resistance. To be considered a FEMA safe room, the structure must be designed and constructed to the guidelines specified in FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (FEMA, third edition, 2008a) (for home and small business safe rooms) and FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (FEMA, second edition, 2008b). Additionally, all applicable federal, state and local codes must be followed. When questions arise pertaining to the differences between FEMA P-361 criteria and another code or standard, the most conservative criteria should apply.

Q2. What is the difference between a small community safe room and a community safe room?

A2. A small community safe room is a safe room intended to hold 16 or fewer occupants. The prescriptive solutions presented in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) may be used for small community safe rooms when approved by the authority having jurisdiction.

Q3. Should I have a safe room?

A3. Pages 6 through 10 of FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) provide background information to help homeowners decide if a safe room is needed in their home. Homeowners and small-business owners should also refer to the Homeowner's Worksheet, Assessing Your Risk (Table I-1) in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a); this is an easy-to-use matrix that helps users decide whether a safe room is a matter of preference, should be considered or is the preferred method for protection from extreme winds.

NEED FOR A SAFE ROOM

Q4. My house has a basement. Do I need a safe room?

A4. Some strong tornadoes have resulted in loss of floor framing, collapse of basement walls and death and injuries to individuals taking refuge in a basement. What constitutes an acceptable level of protection is an individual decision. A basement may be the safest place to seek shelter for homes without a safe room but it will not provide the same level of protection as a safe room unless it has been designed and constructed to provide the level of protection in accordance with FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b).

A basement is a good location to install a shelter or build a safe room but access for handicapped or physically challenged individuals may be limited. The flood risk of your location may also affect whether it is appropriate to place a safe room in your basement. If your house or neighborhood is prone to flooding, the basement may not be an appropriate location for taking refuge.

Q5. Do any local jurisdictions require safe rooms?

A5. Local jurisdictions generally do not require safe rooms or shelters. However, some communities have offered incentives for owners who wish to build a safe room or shelter, including reduced property taxes. Some state and local governments have engaged in grant programs with the federal government to partially subsidize the construction of safe rooms, both residential and community.

In 2008, the International Code Council (ICC) released the Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, also known as the ICC-500. The ICC-500 standard presents design criteria for tornado and hurricane shelters that provide similar or slightly different protection than a safe room constructed to FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) criteria. The ICC-500 standard and the criteria provided in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) can be adopted by local jurisdictions as minimum design criteria for safe rooms or shelters but only local jurisdictions can mandate whether a safe room or shelter is required. Builders and homeowners should check with their local jurisdiction to see what requirements have been adopted for their community.

Additionally, the 2009 International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) each have incorporated the ICC-500 shelter standard. As such, any jurisdiction that has adopted these codes (or based its state or local code on these codes) has adopted the ICC-500 as the standard for the design and construction of hurricane and tornado shelters in their jurisdictions. Therefore, when a room is to be designated as a shelter and the local jurisdiction has adopted the 2009 IBC, the shelter must comply with ICC-500.

GRANTS

Q6. Where can I find information about obtaining FEMA funding to construct a safe room? Are there any funds available in my area?

A6. For project eligibility and financial assistance questions, please contact your State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO). Your SHMO can advise you on what information must be provided for your project to be considered for funding, as well as any applicable federal, state and local design requirements. Your SHMO will also be able to provide you with information on funding sources.

Q7. Can I still apply for FEMA funding after I have begun construction of a safe room or purchased a safe room?

A7. No. You must apply for funding before the purchase of a safe room or beginning any construction. Section D.2, Part III of FY 2011 Hazard Mitigation Assistance Unified Guidance (FEMA, 2010) states that costs related to projects for which actual physical work (such as groundbreaking, demolition or construction of a raised foundation) has occurred prior to award or final approval are ineligible.

Q8. What costs are eligible for funding under a safe room grant?

A8. Allowable costs for safe room projects funded under FEMA's Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) program and Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) are those components related to and, necessary for, providing life safety for building residents in the immediate vicinity during an extreme-wind event. The funding covers design and building costs related to structural and building envelope protection. The funding covers both retrofits to existing facilities and new construction projects and applies to both single- and multi-use facilities.

Eligible costs are only those consistent with FEMA-approved performance criteria as provided in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b). These criteria are summarized in Table 6 of the 2011 FY FEMA Hazard Mitigation Assistance Unified Guidance (FEMA, 2010).

Q9. How do I check the status of my safe room grant application?

A9. Please contact your State Hazard Mitigation Officer (SHMO) to find the status of your safe room application.

CERTIFICATION

Q10. Does FEMA approve, endorse or certify any products?

A10. No. Federal policy does not allow FEMA to approve, endorse, certify or recommend any products. While a product may be in compliance with FEMA design guidance, any language from manufacturers stating their product is "FEMA approved" or "FEMA certified" is incorrect.

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Q11. Does FEMA verify or certify design calculations published by manufacturers for their products?

A11. No. FEMA does not verify or certify design calculations for any product. The design professional who signs the certification attests that the product in question will meet the requirements specified on the certification. The design professional should be licensed in the state in which the product will be used. Note that any product must be properly installed for its intended use(s) only.

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Q12. Can a contractor be certified by FEMA to install FEMA safe rooms?

A12. No. Federal policy does not allow federal agencies to endorse, approve, certify or recommend any contractors, individuals or firms. Any contractors, individuals or firms who state they are "FEMA approved" or "FEMA certified" are incorrect.

Please contact your state emergency management agency for information on becoming certified by your state to build safe rooms. The contact information for state offices and agencies of emergency management can be found by clicking here. There is no federal certification.

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DESIGN

Q13. What is the recommended square footage per person for a tornado community safe room?

A13. For a tornado community safe room, the number of standing, seated (wheelchair-bound) and bedridden spaces should be determined based on the expected occupancy of the safe room calculated by the designer and the applicable authority having jurisdiction. However, each community safe room should be sized to accommodate a minimum of one wheelchair space for every 200 occupants.

It is also important to note that floor areas within community safe rooms should have an access route in accordance with the International Code Council (ICC)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1, Standard on Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. The minimum recommended safe room floor area per occupant for tornado community safe rooms is provided in Table 1.

Table 1. Occupant Density for Tornado Community Safe Rooms
Tornado Community Safe Room Occupant Minimum Recommended Usable Floor Area* per Safe Room Occupant

Standing or Seated

5 square feet

Wheelchair Bound

10 square feet

Bedridden

30 square feet

*See FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) Section 3.3.1(o) for recommended usable safe room floor area.

Please note that, if you wish to build a FEMA-funded tornado community safe room, the recommendations shown in Table 1 are required.

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Q14. What is the recommended square footage per person for a hurricane community safe room?

A14. For a hurricane community safe room, the number of standing, seated (wheelchair-bound) or bedridden spaces should be determined based on the expected occupancy of the safe room calculated by the designer and the applicable authority having jurisdiction. However, each community safe room should be sized to accommodate a minimum of one wheelchair space for every 200 occupants.

It is also important to note that floor areas within community safe rooms should have an accessible route in accordance with ICC/ANSI A117.1. The minimum recommended safe room floor area per occupant for hurricane community safe rooms is provided in Table 2. The minimum recommended usable floor area per safe room occupant is larger for a hurricane community safe room than for a tornado community safe room because occupants require a longer sheltering time for hurricanes.

Table 2. Occupant Density for Hurricane Community Safe Rooms
Hurricane Community Safe Room Occupant Minimum Recommended Usable Floor Area* per Safe Room Occupant

Standing or Seated

20 square feet

Wheelchair Bound

20 square feet

Bedridden

40 square feet

* See FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) Section 3.4.1(o) for recommended usable safe room floor area.

Please note that, if you wish to build a FEMA-funded hurricane community safe room, the recommendations shown in Table 2 are required.

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Q15. What is the recommended square footage per person for a residential tornado and hurricane safe room?

A15. For residential safe rooms, the usable tornado safe room floor area should be the gross floor area minus the area of sanitary facilities, if any, and should include the protected occupant area between the safe room walls at the height of any fixed seating, if it exists. The minimum recommended safe room floor area per occupant for residential tornado and hurricane safe rooms is provided in Table 3.

Table 3. Occupant Density for Residential Tornado and Hurricane Safe Rooms
  Residential Safe Room Types Minimum Recommended Usable Floor Area per Safe Room Occupant
Tornado

One- and Two-Family Dwellings

3 square feet

 

Other Residential

5 square feet

Hurricane

One- and Two-Family Dwellings

7 square feet

 

Other Residential

10 square feet

Please note that, if you wish to build a FEMA-funded hurricane residential safe room, the recommendations shown in Table 3 are required.

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COST

Q16. What is the cost of installing a safe room in a new home or small business?

A16. Costs for construction vary across the United States. The cost for constructing a safe room that can double as a master closet, bathroom, or utility room inside a new home or small business ranges from approximately $6,600 to $8,700 (in 2011 dollars). This cost range is applicable to the basic designs in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) for an 8-foot by 8-foot safe room (approximately 64 square feet of protected space). Larger, more refined designs for greater comfort cost more, with 14‑foot by 14-foot safe rooms ranging in cost from approximately $12,000 to $14,300. The cost of the safe room can vary significantly, depending on the following factors:

  • The size of the safe room
  • The location of the safe room within the home or small business
  • The number of exterior home walls used in the construction of the safe room
  • The type of door used
  • The type of foundation on which the safe room is constructed
  • The location of the home or small business within the United States

For additional cost information for small safe rooms in a home or small business, see FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a), Section II, page 34. For additional cost information for community safe rooms, see FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), Section 2.3, page 2-21.

Furthermore, see High Wind Safe Rooms.org for sample remodeling costs for an 8-foot by 8-foot safe room and a 14-foot by 14-foot safe room.

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CONSTRUCTION OPTIONS

Q17. Can I install a safe room in an existing home?

A17. Yes, though installing a safe room in an existing home or small business is typically more expensive and challenging than installing one in a new building. Modifying the walls or foundation of an existing building for the construction of a safe room is more complicated than constructing those elements new and, as a result, some of the prescriptive safe room designs provided in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) are not practical for some existing homes. Typically, installing a safe room in an existing home costs 20 percent more than installing the same safe room in a new home under construction.

Due to the technical challenges involved in retrofitting an existing home for a safe room, an architect or engineer should be consulted to address the structural issues and the wind-borne debris protection criteria, even when not required by the local building department. As such, homeowners must balance the desire to have protection within their home with the practicality of constructing a safe room outside the footprint of their existing home or structure for less money. For more information on retrofitting existing buildings with a safe room, see FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a), Section II, page 25, and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), Section 5.3.2, page 5-7.

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Q18. As a homeowner, can I build the safe room on my own?

A18. A homeowner who builds a safe room should be skilled in building construction. Some pre-fabricated safe rooms are available that require less building construction experience to successfully install. In purchasing any safe room, the homeowner should obtain sufficient documentation to determine that the safe room is built to the FEMA safe room design and protection criteria.

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Q19. Where is the best location for the safe room?

A19. There are several possible locations in or near your home or small business for a safe room. The most convenient location in many homes is in the basement. If there is no basement within the home or if the walls of the basement do not meet FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) design criteria, an in-ground safe room can be installed beneath a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or concrete garage floor. In-ground and basement safe rooms provide the highest level of protection against missiles and falling debris because they are typically shielded from direct forces of wind and debris; however, above-ground designs, such as the prescriptive designs provided in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or any solution following the criteria set forth in FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) will provide near-absolute protection.

Many individuals prefer to build within their homes or buildings so they have some level of protection while attempting to access their safe room. For an existing home or small business, this convenience must be balanced with the challenges of retrofitting the building. For more information on selecting the location of a safe room within your home or small business, see FEMA P-320 (2008a), Section II, page 27.

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Q20. Is an underground safe room safer than one above ground?

A20. As long as a safe room is designed to meet or exceed the criteria in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), it will offer the same near-absolute protection whether it is above or below ground.

Some people prefer to construct a safe room within their homes or building (rather than outside within 100 feet) so they have some level of protection while attempting to access it. For an existing home or small business, this convenience must be balanced with the challenges of retrofitting the building. For more information on selecting the location of a safe room within your home or small business, see FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a), Section II, page 27.

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LOCATION RESTRICTIONS

Q21. Are there any restrictions for the location of a FEMA community safe room?

A21. Yes. FEMA provides guidance on the location of community safe rooms in relation to flood hazards mapped by FEMA.

Per FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), flood hazards should be considered when designing a community safe room. Flood loads acting on a structure containing a safe room will be strongly influenced by the location of the structure relative to the flood source. Safe rooms should be located outside of the following high-risk flood hazard areas:

  • The Coastal High Hazard Area (Zone VE) or other areas known to be subject to high-velocity floodwater or wave action
  • Areas seaward of the Limit of Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA) where mapped, also referred to as the Coastal A Zone in ASCE 24, Flood Resistant Design and Construction (ASCE, 2005)
  • Floodways

Structures containing community safe rooms should be located in areas at low risk for flooding and mapped as unshaded Zone X or Zone C (outside the 500-year [0.2-percent-annual-chance] floodplain) wherever possible. Where not possible, the structures should be located in the least hazardous portion of the area subject to flooding during the 0.2-annual-chance flood event (shaded Zone X or Zone B) or, if that is not possible, then in the least hazardous portions of the 1-percent-annual-chance floodplain (i.e., within the Special Flood Hazard Area [SFHA], the building should be located in Zones AO or AH, or Zones AE or A1-30). Siting safe rooms in structures in SFHAs is not a desirable option and should be avoided except in special circumstances where consultation with local and state emergency management officials and FEMA concludes there is no other feasible option.

For information on the lowest floor used for safe room space or safe room support areas, see FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) Section 3.6.1.

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Q22. Are there any restrictions for the location of a FEMA residential safe room?

A22. Yes. FEMA provides guidance on the location of residential safe rooms in relation to flood hazards mapped by FEMA.

Per FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), flood hazards should also be considered when designing a residential safe room. Flood loads acting on a structure containing a safe room will be strongly influenced by the location of the structure relative to the flood source. Tornado or hurricane residential safe room should be located outside of the following high-risk flood hazard areas:

  • The Coastal High Hazard Area (Zone VE) or other areas known to be subject to high-velocity floodwater or wave action
  • Areas seaward of the LiMWA where mapped, also referred to as the Coastal A Zone in ASCE 24-05
  • Floodways
  • Areas subject to coastal storm surge inundation associated with a Category 5 hurricane (where applicable, these areas should be mapped areas studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or other qualified source)

A residential safe room, as prescribed in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or designed to the criteria presented in Section 3.5.2 of FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), should not be located within the Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) if at all possible. If it is not possible to install a residential safe room outside of the SFHA, the residential safe room should be placed outside of the high hazard areas identified above, and the top of the elevated floor of the safe room should be designed and constructed to the highest elevation specified in Section 3.6.2 of FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b).

For information on the lowest floor used for safe room space or safe room support areas, see FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) Section 3.6.2.

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GUIDANCE AND RESOURCES

Q23. Besides FEMA guidance, what other codes and standards apply to safe rooms?

A23. In August 2008, the International Code Council (ICC), with the support of the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA), released a consensus standard on the design and construction of storm shelters, Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, also known as the ICC-500. This standard codifies many of the extreme-wind shelter recommendations of editions of FEMA 320 and 361 published prior to 2008.

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Q24. What design guidance should be used when questions arise pertaining to criteria or requirements not addressed by FEMA P-320, FEMA P-361 or ICC-500?

A24. When a question arises that needs design guidance not covered in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a), FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), or International Code Council (ICC)-500 (ICC 2008), the most current International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code for One- and Two-Family Dwellings (IRC) (with references to the most recent versions of American Society of Civil Engineers [ASCE] 7-10, Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures and ASCE 24, Flood Resistant Design and Construction) should be used as the design and construction criteria. When these codes and standards have conflicting criteria, the most conservative criteria should apply. At a minimum, compliance with the 2006 IRC, 2006 IBC, and ASCE 7-10 must be attained.

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Q25. Where can I download the prescriptive design drawings referenced in FEMA P-320?

A25. FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) can be downloaded from the FEMA library web site. At the bottom of the page is a resource file link for downloading the in-residence and small business safe room design drawings. See also Safe Room Construction Plans and Specifications for a list of the drawings.

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Q26. Where can I find additional information and plans for safe room construction?

A26. Additional information is available at the FEMA Safe Room Web site.

For residences and small businesses:

  • Call 1-800-480-2520 to order FEMA P-320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (FEMA, third edition, 2008a)
  • Download FEMA P-320 and the design drawings from the FEMA library.
  • Download FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance of Community Safe Rooms (FEMA, second edition, 2008) from the FEMA library Web site. Chapter 3 of FEMA 361 contains design criteria for both residential and community safe rooms.

For community safe rooms:

  • Download FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance of Community Safe Rooms (FEMA, second edition, 2008) from the FEMA library Web site.

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Q27. Can I change the prescriptive plans in FEMA P-320 to meet my specific needs?

A27. FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) has prescriptive safe room plans for safe rooms sized between 8 feet x 8 feet x 8 feet and 14 feet x 14 feet x 8 feet. However, a safe room can be customized to meet your individual needs. Therefore, a safe room can be sized differently as long as it complies with the guidance in FEMA P-361 (2008b). When changing any details of the prescriptive plans in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a), it is highly advised you speak with a design professional to guarantee that the modified design meets the near-absolute protection offered by the designs in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a). The design professional should be licensed in the state in which the safe room will be installed. If you are unsure if a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) criteria, you may contact your local or State emergency management office.

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APPROVAL AND INSPECTION

Q28. Is there a FEMA approval process for the construction of safe rooms?

A28. FEMA does not have an approval process for reviewing or certifying the design or construction of safe rooms. The designs in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) meet FEMA's goal of providing near-absolute protection through the construction of a safe room. Safe rooms that meet the criteria in FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) also meet this goal. To determine if your safe room meets these requirements, contact a local design professional licensed in the state in which the safe room will be installed.

Please note that if a FEMA grant is sought to build a safe room, the safe room project must demonstrate technical feasibility and effectiveness. FEMA grants will only be given to safe rooms which will be built to meet the near-absolute protection criteria in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b).

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Q29. What should I do if I am unsure a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA P-320 or FEMA P-361 criteria?

A29. If you are unsure a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) criteria, you may contact your local building official or your State emergency management office.

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Q30. Are inspections required?

A30. Obtaining proper building permits and inspections is important for all construction. The builder or homeowner should ensure the safe room is built according to the plans in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or to plans that, through testing and engineering, have been determined to meet the safe room design criteria in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b). The level of construction needed for a safe room typically requires a permit from the local building department. Further, to verify compliance with the FEMA or International Code Council (ICC)-500 (ICC, 2008) criteria, additional quality control inspections for community safe rooms and often for residential safe rooms, may be needed. 

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Q31. Who do I contact to inspect my safe room?

A31. A building professional licensed in the state in which the safe room is installed can be contracted to inspect your safe room. Contact a local building official to determine who can properly inspect your safe room to verify the safe room design criteria in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) or FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) have been met.

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DOORS AND EGRESS

Q32. What forces should a safe room door be designed to resist?

A32. In addition to resisting both positive and negative wind pressures, safe room doors must also be able to resist debris impact. Door construction (primarily the exterior skin) has been found to be a limiting element in the ability of a door to withstand missile impacts.

The door chosen for your safe room should have been tested to meet the criteria outlined in FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), Section 3.5.2. A manufacturer should be able to provide documentation to show that their product has passed such testing. The door and door assembly should also have been tested to withstand both positive and negative pressures in addition to debris impact loads. For more information on testing of doors for both missile impact and pressurization, see Chapter 8 of the Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC, 2008), also known as the ICC-500.

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Q33. Where do I find the doors and hardware for my in-residence shelter?

A33. Doors and hardware that provide protection for a safe room may be constructed from common building materials or purchased from manufacturers. Drawing number MS-02 in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) shows the details necessary to construct a safe room door using 14- and 12-gauge steel panels. Alternatively, a home or business owner may purchase a door that meets the performance criteria set forth in FEMA P-320 (FEMA, 2008a) and FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) from a manufacturer. FEMA does not certify specific products for use but any manufacturer can have their products tested to demonstrate that the FEMA criteria have been met.

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Q34. Should the door of a safe room swing inward or outward?

A34. FEMA has no recommendation regarding the direction of the door swing since wind can create both positive and negative pressures on a safe room. Please contact a local building official or licensed design professional in your area to discuss the applicable building code requirement for the direction of door swing.

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Q35. How should I prepare for the possibility of a safe room door becoming blocked by debris after a tornado event?

A35. You should always keep in mind any door can be obstructed by debris after a tornado event; an operations and communication plan should be in place to guide actions should this occur. You should consider having several forms of communication within the safe room to allow you to call for help if the door becomes blocked. Having a jacking mechanism in the safe room to pry the door open is also prudent. Also keep in mind that the safe room doors should be operable from the inside without any keys or special knowledge or effort. Before any hazard event occurs, you should notify emergency management service personnel to tell them where your safe room is located.

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Q36. Is it permissible to install locking devices on safe room door handles/knobs?

A36. According to FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b), the egress doors of the safe room should be operable from the inside without the use of keys or special knowledge or effort. Furthermore, Section 7.4.3 of FEMA P-361 (FEMA, 2008b) states that model building codes and life-safety codes often include strict requirements for securing doors in public areas. These codes often require panic bar hardware, single-release mechanisms and other hardware requirements. Please keep this in mind and check with local building code officials before installing door hardware.

In all cases, a detailed operations and communication plan should be developed. The operation and communication plan should clearly identify the protocol for who is responsible for unlocking and securing the safe room before and after an event, describe the critical operations plans and provide backup plans in case those in charge of said duties are unavailable.

REFERENCES/RESOURCES

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). 2005. Flood Resistant Design and Construction. ASCE 24-05.

ASCE. 2010. Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures. ASCE 7-10.

Federal Alliance for Safe Homes, Inc. (FLASH). HIGH WIND SAFE ROOMS.ORG. Last accessed: December 2, 2011.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 2008a. Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business. FEMA P-320.

FEMA. 2008b. Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms. FEMA P-361.

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International Code Council (ICC). 2006. International Building Code. 2006 IBC

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ICC. 2008. ICC/National Strom Shelter Association Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. ICC 500-2008.

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