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Safe Room Saves Lives in Oklahoma Tornado


Editor's note: updated on May 6, 4:13 p.m.

On April 14, deadly storms rolled through Oklahoma, with a tornado touching down in Atoka County. As the winds of up to 165 miles-per-hour roared overhead, nearly 200 men, women, children and firefighters stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a safe room in Tushka Public School.

“The death toll would have been much higher had there not been a safe room to take shelter in,” said Tushka Mayor Brickie Griffin. “We are thankful we had a safe room on April 14.”

A safe room is all that is left of a house destroyed by a tornado.
Shawnee, OK, May 13, 2010 – This photo, taken last year in Oklahoma, shows all that remains of a country farmstead. A safe room helped save the lives of the family as tornadoes destroyed their home.

Oklahoma has 77 similar safe rooms across the state, each demonstrating coordination between federal, state, and local governments. Two thirds of the construction of the safe room came under the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, a program administered by FEMA.

Within the state, the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management administers the grant program and worked with Tushka officials to make the project a reality. The purpose of the grant program is to fund measures that will reduce the loss of life and property in future disasters, including the building of safe rooms.

William J. Dorann III, the Federal Coordinating Officer in the ongoing Oklahoma recovery, described the purpose of a safe room the best:

"The goal of a safe room is to provide refuge from storms for individuals and families. As we saw in the town of Tushka, a safe room can be vital in protecting lives and provides a safe haven from the effects of devastating tornadoes."

Building a safe room is one step you can take to keep your family safe in the event of severe weather. Check out these tips for building a safe room, and more tips on getting prepared for emergencies at

To insure the protection of the health, safety and welfare of the public, the construction of schools, hospitals, state buildings and certain other buildings in Oklahoma have to meet, at a minimum, the Oklahoma Building Code which is based on the International Building Code. For the higher protection afforded by tornado safe rooms, guidance and standards exists from FEMA's Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (FEMA P-361, 2008) and the International Code Council/National Storm Shelter Association Standard For The Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC 500-2008).

Last Updated: 
06/19/2012 - 11:15

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