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Keep Your Family Safe: Build a Tornado 'Safe Room' in Your Home

Release date: 
May 12, 1999
Release Number: 

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is urging residents of tornado-prone areas to build a "safe room" in their homes that can provide protection against deadly tornadoes. Safe rooms also can provide protection against hurricanes and other extreme wind hazards.

"The deaths and devastation caused by the tornadoes that hit Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas just last week are heartbreaking," Witt said. "While we can't stop tornadoes, we can build secure, easily accessible rooms in homes that can keep families safe from harm."

Witt noted that a safe room built in a home in Del City, Okla., last week saved the lives of homeowner Norma Bartlett, her daughter and four pets. Their neighborhood was completely destroyed and a nearby neighbor was killed during the storm. The Bartlett safe room is a cast-in-place concrete room that serves as a roomy closet, costing between $3,000 and $4,000. Some safe rooms can be built for as little as $2,000, depending on the size and location of the room. Construction costs can vary from one geographic area to another. Safe rooms can be built above ground or below, within a home or attached to one. Some are built of reinforced concrete and some are build with wood-and-steel walls anchored to concrete slab foundations or floors.

The Bartlett's safe room was built to design standards developed and published in a 25-page, illustrated FEMA publication, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House, which outlines the basics of in-house safe room shelter design, including construction plans, materials and construction cost estimates. Safe rooms built to these specifications are designed to provide protect-ion from the forces of extreme winds as high as 250 miles-per-hour and the impact of flying debris.

FEMA developed Taking Shelter from the Storm in collaboration with the Wind Engineering Research Center of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas. The safe room designs draw on 25 years of field research, including studies of the performance of buildings following dozens of tornadoes throughout the United States and laboratory testing on the performance of building materials and systems when impacted by airborne debris.

The safe room project is part of an ongoing FEMA initiative called Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities designed to encourage people and communities to take measures to protect themselves and their property before disasters occur.

In other safe room-related activities:

  • FEMA has sent its Building Performance Assessment Team, which includes structural engineers, wind engineers and building and roofing experts to Oklahoma and Kansas. The 18-member team will examine structures, including safe rooms, assessing the impact of the tornadoes on conventional construction, tornado-resistant construction and critical facilities. The team conducts "forensic engineering analyses" to determine causes of structural failure and successes and recommends actions to reduce future damage and protect lives and property from natural disasters.

  • The City of Tulsa, a FEMA-designated Project Impact community, is working with the Tulsa Home Builders Association to oversee the building of eight demonstration safe rooms, underwritten with part of a $50,000 grant through FEMA from a federal group called PATH (Partnerships for Advancing Technology in Housing). Two of the safe rooms are nearly complete in two new houses that will be on display for the Tulsa Home Builders Parade of Homes June 5 - 13. FEMA's Project Impact is a national effort that involves all segments of a community in assessing vulnerabilities and taking actions to reduce damage from natural disasters before they occur.

  • A workshop...
Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 13:04