Storm Shelters

Deadly tornadoes seem to stimulate people’s interest in storm shelters, and we have had many emails questioning us about them. With that in mind, we will try to address the subject.

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One of the very first things you should do if you are thinking about a storm shelter or safe room is to determine the actual risk in your area. This has been made much easier with a publication by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Texas Tech University, using data from the SPC. We are excerpting three illustrations here, and telling you how to get the entire publication further down on this page.

Figure 1.2 shows the number of recorded tornadoes per 2,470 square miles, color coded by intensity.

Illustration shows number of recorded tornadoes per 2,470 square miles, color coded by intensity.


Figure 1.4 shows the wind zones throughout the US.

By using both maps and the table below, you can figure out whether your risk is considered low, moderate, or high.

It should be noted that many families in areas of lower risk have storm shelters or safe rooms. Clearly, one of the factors that must be considered is the level of safety that is necessary for peace of mind. It must also be noted that many people in high risk areas go through an entire lifetime without ever seeing so much as a funnel cloud! This is a very personal decision, one that must not be based solely on an emotional reaction. The The Wind Science and Engineering Research Center of Texas Tech has a page that may provides more food for thought in helping you make that decision. You will find it here.

Del City, Okla., May 4,1999 Woman standing in from of the safe room in her daughter’s home. She and her daughter were in the safe room during the tornado, along with two dogs and two cats. (credit: FEMA)

If you decide that you want to invest in a storm shelter, you will need to decide whether you want to install a pre-manufactured shelter, or have a safe room built from plans like those in the excellent guidebook by FEMA and the Wind Science and Engineering Research Center. This booklet has information on retrofitting an existing home with a shelter, or including one in the plans for a new home. Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House takes you step-by-step through the decision-making process. You can see a photograph of a mockup “safe room” on this page of the FEMA site. You can view or download(in pdf format) that guide on this FEMA page, or download the guide(fema_p_320.pdf) from right here at our site. And if you don't have an Adobe Acrobat reader, you can download one at the Adobe site. The guide also has a materials list and diagrams.

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Thanks to the kind people of Tecumseh, Oklahoma, for allowing me to photograph their storm shelters!

If you decide that you want a shelter, but prefer a pre-manufactured one, we will try to provide some things to think on our commercial shelter page.

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