Public Safe Room Initiatives

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Region IV

City of Jesup and Wayne County Law Enforcement EOC and 911 Complex Wind Retrofit:

GeorgiaAccording to a Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) database, Wayne County has had between five and 12 major tornados in the past 50 years. The retrofit of the existing facility is a joint governmental effort between the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and the City of Jesup to provide a safe and secure environment for its law officers, emergency management, and E-911 staff. The project will partially demolish and wind retrofit the existing Jesup and Wayne County Law Enforcement, Emergency Operations Center and E-911 Complex to withstand wind speeds of 200-mph, 3-second peak gust and meet all other FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms requirements. The $1.7 million project has a federal share of just under $1.1 million and a state/local share of $614,000. The existing roof structure and perimeter walls do not meet current building codes for wind velocity and provide substandard protection for emergency operations.

Due to the structural improvements, the governmental bodies will be able to provide a protected area for use during disaster situations for all responsible decision makers. The secure site will also ensure a location to gather and distribute accurate public information. The project is currently under design.

Crisp County Community Shelter Initiative
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On February 14, 2000, tornados ravaged southwest Georgia , causing death and widespread destruction of property. This resulted in a Presidential Disaster Declaration on February 15, 2000. The state utilized Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) funds, made available as a result of the declaration, to help pay for the construction of the Crisp County Community Shelter. The county constructed the community shelter on the southeast side of the Sheriff's Department to protect the lives of public safety personnel, families, and visitors. The shelter is approximately 2,432 square feet, with an estimated occupancy of 150 people. The Crisp County Community Shelter was constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Community Shelter Program under Mississippi's "A Safe Place to Go Initiative"

MississippiSixty community shelters have been constructed under this Mississippi initiative since the February 2001 Presidential declared disaster. Over 30 of the shelters are located in Pontotoc County. Typically the shelters are located in, behind, or adjacent to municipal buildings such as fire and police departments, and emergency operations centers. The Town of Ecru (population 947) is representative in that they have five shelters located behind fire and police departments. The shelters measure 13 feet by 13 feet by 7.5 feet and cost $6,675 each, with a reimbursement of $5,000. According to town officials, the shelters have been filled to capacity during every tornado warning/event since their construction.

Golden Age Senior Citizens Center
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OhioThe Golden Age Senior Center's facility is owned by the City of Xenia, Ohio, and operated by a private non-profit organization. In 2000, a tornado destroyed the senior center's garage and prompted administrators to consider constructing a tornado shelter. On August 30, 2002, a new multi-purpose activity room/storm shelter addition was dedicated. The shelter was constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The facility has already been used during three severe weather events.

Associated Neighborhood Center
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A safe room was constructed in the McGuffey Community Centre in Ohio. The center serves up to 1,900 clients per month, including 600 seniors, and provides a youth services program and a social education and family support program. The safe room was completed on August 8, 2002. In July 2003, the area experienced severe weather producing an F-1 tornado within a mile of the McGuffey Community Centre. The neighborhood association opened the facility to the community during this severe weather period. The shelter was constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

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Region VI

Oklahoma State School Shelter Initiative

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OklahomaAfter the devastating May 3, 1999, tornadoes, the State of Oklahoma decided the best investment of disaster mitigation funds was to protect their most vulnerable residents. The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (ODEM) implemented an initiative to construct tornado shelters in Oklahoma schools. Thus far, ODEM has received over 120 applications for federal assistance funds to construct safe rooms in their schools and, as of March 2004, over 75 have been approved. To be approved, all shelters must be constructed to meet criteria set forth by FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms including meeting local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. The first two completed shelters are located in Maple School near El Reno, and in Union Elementary in Ponca City.

Richard Flurry, the superintendent of Maple School, voiced his delight at the fact that "students are able to use their safe room every day as a library as well as a classroom. The structure blends right in with all the other school buildings. Unless you look at some of the fixtures and hardware, you cannot notice a difference."

The Safe Room at Union Elementary doubles as a classroom and houses special education classes. "We made the Safe Room larger than required so we could get three classrooms into the structure," stated Bret Smith, school superintendent. "The teachers and students seem to really enjoy the new rooms and the way they can utilize the space. They also feel much more secure in that they now have a real safe area to come to in the event of a dangerous storm in that part of the city or area."

Two shelters have been approved for Wynnewood district schools. Both shelters are still in the construction stage. Bill Weldon, superintendent, states that "everyone here is excited about the possibilities of having safe rooms to protect our children and community member. Our plans are to use one of the shelters for a band room and the other for a computer lab. I have been contacted by numerous administrators throughout the state and a state circulated newspaper. I hope this will give you some insight as to the importance of this program to our small community."

Tom Turner, superintendent, states that "the community is delighted that there will be a place to go when storms strike our part of the world!" The Chocteau-Maize School District has just started the construction of their shelter.

The Porum School District is constructing an event center that is nearly 19,000 square feet, and will contain a safe room that can hold over 700 people. Porum Superintendent Mark Calavan stated that "the Event Center is something that the entire community will be able to utilize" and commended the present Board of Education for their vision of the future in promoting the project. The school administration obtained a $400,000 FEMA grant to build the air-conditioned gymnasium/auditorium that will seat nearly 1,000 people.

Monte Madewell, Superintendent of Warner Public Schools, stated "we are extremely excited about getting construction of our safe rooms started. Just last year, on three separate occasions, we had to put children in the hallways and restrooms during the after school program because of the threat of tornadoes. Tornadoes are a common part of our weather especially during the spring and these safe rooms will give a sense of security to our students, faculty, and community. We sincerely appreciate the approval of this grant. We would also like to add that many parents have made positive expressed concern in the past because of the school's inability to provide adequate safety in response to severe weather. I think it's an understatement to say that our staff, parents, and children are excited about the idea of having safe rooms."

In addition to the community's enthusiastic response, there is much positive reaction and gratitude from school administrators. Richard Flurry is superintendent of Maple school, the first school to apply under this program and the first to complete construction. After the shelter was completed and put into use, he stated "…this was the easiest federal thing I've been involved with. It was real easy, real simple." He credits the community for helping out and the positive working relationship with the people at ODEM and FEMA that made this all possible.

Smith County 911 Communications and Emergency Operations Center

Texas Smith County is located in east Texas, approximately 100 miles east of Dallas. Smith is a largely rural county, with only one metropolitan area: the City of Tyler. The county constructed a state-of-art facility that will serve as the centralized 911 communication dispatch and emergency operations center (EOC) for approximately 30 agencies (serving a population of approximately 175,000) as well as serving as a storm shelter. Notable features of this 15,000 square foot facility include: a roof and exterior walls hardened to resist tornado forces; a lobby designed to minimize blast effects; multiple security access levels; and an area specifically planned for press conferences, interviews, and other interaction with members of the media. The shelter was constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

See Hardened First Responder Facility for more information on this subject.

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Region VII

Community Shelter Initiative
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IowaThe State of Iowa began an initiative to construct community shelters throughout the state. Currently two shelters have been constructed: one in the City of Duncombe and one in the City of Ventura. The City of Ventura is located on Clear Lake, a well known recreational lake. Within the city limits is a state park that includes a campground, boat launch, trails and picnic areas. This camp has approximately 50 campsites, which are full-to-capacity many times during the summer months. Ventura is a unique area that attracts a lot of recreational travelers in the summer.

Several years ago, a camper was killed during a storm when a tree fell on a campsite. There was no storm shelter available in the state park. This accident prompted the state to construct a community shelter at the park to provide shelter to residents and visitors. The shelter is equipped with restrooms, meeting rooms and a kitchen and serves as a small community center when not in use as a shelter. Senior citizens from the local community sold bricks to pave the brick area in front of the facility and to pay for kitchen items not covered by FEMA funds. This facility also serves meals to the elderly, and is used for special events such as weddings and family reunions.

The facility is equipped with a keypad to ensure that someone can open the facility for others during severe weather events. Reflective signs are posted along trails to guide people to the shelters. The shelters were constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Iowa State Fairgrounds Campgrounds Shelter
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June 1998, a storm with winds in excess of 100 miles per hour (mph) caused over $465,000 in damage to the Iowa State Fair complex and the 160-acre campground. According to the National Climatic Data Center, the State of Iowa ranked sixth in the number of tornadoes across the nation with 1,974 events between 1950 and February 2004. As a result, the State Fair Board decided to construct a shelter at the campground, which is used from April to October.

The Iowa State Fair and HLSEM collaborated on the shelter construction project. The funding source was the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP); funds for the project were split between Federal (75 percent) and local (25 percent) monies. The shelter encompasses 5,200 square feet in area and is 100 feet long by 71 feet wide; it was constructed to hold approximately 400 people. When not in use as an emergency shelter, the large multi-purpose building is used by both the fairground staff and campers.

The unique design offers excellent wind resistance. The curved surfaces force the wind around the shelter on all sides, thus, alleviating wind pressure at specific points. The roof and the unique curved walls are constructed of 12-inch-thick, pre-cast concrete panels. The interior partition walls are constructed of fully reinforced concrete masonry units (CMUs) and many of the interior walls are 8-inches thick. On the east side of the structure, a concrete canopy mounted on concrete piers provides weather protection and has been designed to withstand 250-mph winds. The canopy provides cover for gatherings at the campground such as small musical groups and social events; descending steps radiating from beneath the canopy promote its use as a stage.

See Iowa State Fair Campground Shelter for more information on this subject.

Department of Commerce Storm Shelter Initiative
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KansasThe Kansas Department of Commerce identified the need for shelters and the funds to build those shelters in the smaller rural communities that may have a limited tax base to generate funds to pay for the cost of shelters. As a result of a series of tornadoes in the spring of 2003, the Department of Commerce encouraged communities to apply for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs) to fund storm shelter construction. The storm shelters addressed the urgent national need of providing shelters in rural communities. Ten communities (Elsmore, Humbolt, Kincaid, La Harp, Miami County, Neosho Falls, Scranton, Toronto, Westphalia, and Woodson County) have been granted CDBG funds to construct community shelters. Eight of these communities have populations below 2,000, with Elsmore having the smallest population (72 residents). All 10 communities are striving to have their shelters completed before the 2004 tornado season. The shelters are or will be constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Kansas Turnpike Authority Public Service Area Shelters
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The State of Kansas is notorious for high tornado activity. To help provide protection for motorists traveling in Kansas, the Kansas Turnpike Authority constructed restrooms in public service areas that can also be used as shelters during high wind events. Restroom shelters have been constructed at two service areas: the Towanda and Matfield service areas. Both the men's and women's restrooms are designed to resist the extreme forces associated with tornadoes. The shelters were constructed in accordance with  FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

State of Kansas School Shelter Initiative
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The State of Kansas implemented an initiative to fund the construction of tornado shelters in Kansas schools. After the devastating May 3, 1999, tornadoes, the Kansas Division of Emergency Management (KDEM), which administers FEMA's mitigation programs in the State of Kansas, and the Kansas Hazard Mitigation Team (KHMT) determined that the best use of mitigation funds would be to construct tornado shelters in Kansas schools. The Wichita Public School District currently has 24 safe rooms, which will serve approximately 7,800 of the District's 49,000 students for approximately 180 operating school days per year. Since the Wichita Public School District set the example for implementing a school shelter initiative, other Kansas counties and school districts are following the District's lead. School shelters have been constructed in Butler, Labette, Reno, Sedgwick, and Sumner Counties. As of August 2002, shelters have been constructed in 60 Kansas schools. The shelters were constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

See Protecting School Children from Tornadoes for more information on this topic.

Sedgwick County Fire Station Shelter Initiative
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Sedgwick County purchased five pre-fabricated storm shelter to be placed in area fire stations.

City of Omaha Shelter Initiative

NebraskaThe City of Omaha, Nebraska, has required the construction of shelters in schools, public housing, and other facilities for over 17 years. Prior to using FEMA P-361, the shelters were constructed to the FEMA guidance found in TR-83B. Since the release of FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms, shelters are required to meet this FEMA guidance.

Morgan County All Hazards Shelter Campaign

ColoradoThe Morgan County, Colorado, All Hazards Shelter Campaign is designed to raise the level of awareness of the public to shelter themselves, specifically from high winds and tornadoes. Initiative actions included:

  • Implementing an emergency preparedness curriculum for students in the 7th and 8th grades at Fort Morgan Middle School.
  • Public educational seminars on preparing for emergencies (including information on NOAA weather radios, surge protectors, and backup generators), constructing a safe room (including exhibiting safe room models constructed by Fort Morgan Middle School students) and tornado spotting for residents and first responders.
  • Focusing on creating partnerships between the County Commissioners, Congressional representatives, Federal agencies, such as the National Weather Service, the media, the private sector, and government to inspire the community to consider ways to help make Morgan County Disaster Resistant.
  • Production of a video to document the county initiatives and successes.

Weldona Day Care Shelter
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Weldona Day Care is part of the Weldona School District which serves a population of 200 people. The shelter was constructed by the Future Farmers of America (FFA) High School Chapter and designed by Fort Morgan Middle School students. A FEMA representative worked with the students to ensure the design and construction met the criteria set forth by FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms. Willard Reed Lumber Company donated lumber materials.

Ellicott High School Auditorium Community Shelter
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The community (Ellicott, Colorado) decided to construct an auditorium/community shelter on the grounds of Ellicott High School to provide protection from high wind events for the students and the community. The shelter is also utilized by individuals stranded from road closures due to winter storms. The shelters were constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Huron First Responder Shelters
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South DakotaThe City of Huron, South Dakota, installed storm shelters in the two fire stations that service the city. The shelters are large enough to protect the staff as well as the small group of fire/ambulance staff members who may be on site. The shelters were purchased by the city from a local concrete manufacturer and installed by city staff with city equipment. The shelters are below ground and meet FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms requirements, but do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

Watertown City Shelter Initiative
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Watertown City, South Dakota, utilized FEMA mitigation funds to construct shelters throughout the community to provide protection for its first responders and citizens. Shelters were constructed at a fire station, in homes, in city parks and campgrounds, and in the county extension building. The City is also constructing a shelter to contain the City's emergency transmission equipment to maintain its operations during severe weather. The shelters were constructed in accordance with FEMA P-361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms and local Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

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Last Updated: 
07/24/2014 - 16:00
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