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FEMA Releases Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters

Release date: 
October 5, 2000
Release Number: 
Photo of a hallway in Northmoor Elementary School in Midwest City, Oklahoma, that was designated as the evacuation area for tornadoes. Click here for a larger image.

Photo of a damaged hallway at Kelly Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma from an F5 tornado

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tornadoes and hurricanes are among the most destructive forces of nature. More than 1,200 tornadoes are reported nationwide per year. Since 1950, there has been an average of 89 deaths and 1,521 injuries annually, and devastating personal and property losses caused by tornadoes. The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 mph or more.

FEMA's Building Performance Assessment Team investigation of the May 1999 tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas made it clear that a severe wind event can cause a large loss of life or a large number of injuries in high-occupancy buildings (e.g., school buildings, hospitals and other critical care facilities, nursing homes, day-care centers, and commercial buildings). The Team's report is available on the BPAT web site! A>.

Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters, developed by FEMA, is a design manual for engineers, architects, building officials, and shelter owners that provides guidance on the design and construction of tornado community shelters. For the purpose of this guidance, a community shelter is defined as a shelter that is designed and constructed to protect a large number of people from a natural hazard event. The number of persons taking refuge in the shelter could be up to several hundred or more.

.The design manual provides detailed guidance concerning the design and construction of shelters for extreme wind events - guidance that is currently not available in building codes or standards, or in other design guides. The shelter designs are intended to provide near-absolute protection from extreme wind events.

Shelter location, design loads, performance criteria, and human factor criteria that should be considered for the design and construction of such shelters is discussed. In addition to design guidance, the manual will include: decision-making software; checklists for evaluating existing buildings; real-life case studies, and sample plans for designs created using the guidance in this manual. The case studies include construction drawings, emergency operation plans, and cost estimates for designs created using the guidance in the manual.

For more information on FEMA's safe room initiative, visit the safe room web site. Copies of the manual, FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Shelters, are free and are available from FEMA by calling 1-800-480-2520.

Learn Your Risks!
Workshops will be held during the coming months to train facility managers and owners how to evaluate their facilities. A risk assessment is an important part of identifying suitable tornado shelters. FEMA 361 includes a refuge area evaluation checklist to assist with a risk assessment.

Last Updated: 
January 3, 2018 - 13:02