Community Wind Shelters: Background and Research


Extreme wind events pose a widespread risk across diverse regions in the United States. Coastal areas like the Gulf Coast and Atlantic Coast, along with regions in Tornado Alley (such as the Great Plains), face heightened susceptibility to hurricanes, tornadoes, and severe storms marked by intense wind speeds. Because of the rising frequency of extreme weather, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) strongly encourages homeowners and communities to build safe rooms to FEMA standards. Community shelters have been consistently needed due to the increased risk posed by strong winds and flying debris during natural hazards.


In areas subject to extreme wind events, building owners, school and hospital administrators, neighborhood associations, and other individuals and organizations responsible for public safety should consider building a community shelter to protect employees, customers, residents, and the general public. Wind hazards, such as those associated with tornadoes and hurricanes, vary throughout the United States. The decision to build a wind shelter should be based largely on the magnitude of the wind hazard in each area and the level of risk to the affected public considered acceptable. 

Wind shelters are intended to protect both wind forces and the impact of windborne debris. A shelter that provides near-absolute protection will protect its occupants from death and injury. To meet the goal of near-absolute protection, the entire shelter—including its walls, ceilings, and doors—must be designed and constructed to provide the required strength and impact resistance. Although essential to successful performance, strength is not the sole consideration in shelter design and construction.  Community shelters must also be:  

  • Readily and easily accessible. 
  • Sited to minimize hazards. 
  • Able to provide for the needs of their occupants. 
  • Equipped with necessary emergency supplies. 
  • Operated and maintained according to formal plans. 

Another consideration is whether a community shelter will be built as new construction or added to an existing building as retrofit construction. It is more cost-effective to build a community shelter as new construction. Incorporating a community shelter into an already-existing structure entails additional considerations and substantial funding. For example, an internal shelter created in an existing building through retrofitting must be structurally separate from the surrounding building so that damage to the surrounding building would not adversely affect the shelter.  

Key Takeaways

  • A community shelter would benefit areas vulnerable to extreme wind hazards. The design and construction of a community shelter should be coordinated with local government agencies and state and federal partners. Local, state, and federal government agencies can help provide expertise and share messaging across their networks. Private companies and organizations that would benefit from having community shelters nearby should also be approached for coordination and assistance.
  • Partner with organizations that are already involved in resilience. Planning for a community shelter should include other partners with experience in resilience to allow for more input and better project coordination. 
  • Make sure your community shelter has everything it needs. The shelter must be built with accessibility concerns, comfort, emergency supplies, ventilation systems, and lighting considerations in mind. 


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