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Do You Need a Safe Room?

Written by Jaymi Naciri on Monday, 11 January 2016 6:59 am
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Every year, dangerous weather hits Texas or Illinois or the entire east coast, and the question arises again: Do you need a safe room?

So, do you? It just might be that building a safe room is what you need to protect your family and give you peace of mind when Mother Nature turns nasty.

"When dangerous weather threatens your family, there may not be much time to get to safety. But right there in your own home, you could ride out a severe tornado or hurricane in a room so sturdily built that it would be the only thing standing after the storm," said Bankrate. "Amid the trauma and tragedy of destruction, you and your loved ones would be uninjured and safe. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, claims that such a ‘safe room' can give you ‘near-absolute protection' from tornadoes and hurricanes."

Information about FEMA's safe room recommendations is taken from FEMA P-320: Taking Shelter from the Storm, Building a Safe Room For Your Home or Small Business, which includes detailed geographical info, a risk assessment, and safe room designs.

Its main claim: "Near absolute protection means that, based on our current knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes, the occupants of a safe room built according to this publication will have a high probability of being protected from injury or death. Our knowledge of tornadoes and hurricanes is based on substantial meteorological records as well as extensive investigations of damage to structures from extreme winds. Having a safe room can also relieve some of the anxiety created by the threat of an oncoming tornado or hurricane."


The Daily Beast

Experts say that 13 minutes is the amount of time, on average, that people have to find shelter once a tornado warning is issued. "If you're at home when the warning comes, staying put will give you the best odds of survival. And those odds will increase substantially if you a have safe place in your home to ride out the storm," said Concrete Network. "In a powerful tornado or hurricane packing winds of more than 250 miles per hour, even well-constructed frame houses can be lifted right off their foundations, and large debris can turn into airborne missiles. During such extreme conditions, one of the safest places you can be is in a room constructed of reinforced concrete or concrete block with no windows and a concrete floor or roof system overhead."

Measuring your risk

If you're in an area that experiences regular tornadoes or hurricanes (you're probably already aware of the risks in your area, but you can view likelihood maps as part of FEMA P-320) you've probably already considered building a safe room at one point. Not surprisingly, interest rises after an extreme weather event.

"The Southeastern and Midwestern portions of the United States experienced historic tornado activity in the spring of 2011. From April 25 to 28, 2011, hundreds of tornadoes ranging from EF0 to EF5 touched down from Texas to New York, with some of the strongest and most devastating on April 27 occurring in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee," said FEMA. "According to the National Weather Service (NWS), tornado-caused deaths reached 364 during the month of April, with 321 people killed during the April 25–28 tornado outbreak," said FEMA. "Less than a month later, on May 22, more than 50 tornadoes touched down across an eight-State area, the most powerful of which was a 0.75-mile-wide EF5 tornado that cut a 6-mile path through Joplin, MO. The tornado destroyed thousands of homes and caused widespread damage in the city. This historic tornado resulted in 161 fatalities, the most fatalities ever recorded from a single tornado since modern record keeping began in 1950."


How Stuff Works

Everything from extreme wind to actual rotational events to hurricanes can severely damage a home, causing destruction and, in the worst cases, mass casualties like seen in the recent Texas tornadoes. According to FEMA, "Most homes, even new ones constructed according to modern building codes, do not provide adequate protection for occupants seeking life-safety protection from tornadoes. Homes built to a modern building code in hurricane-prone areas, such as wind-borne debris regions, better resist wind forces and windborne debris impacts from hurricanes. However, a tornado or hurricane can produce wind and windborne debris loads on a home or small business that are much greater than those on which building code requirements are based.

Safe room costs

Safe room design is based on several factors, but FEMA recommends a minimum size of 7x10 feet. It can be located in the home, outside of the home, or underground. It can also be purchased as a prefabricated unit or materials purchased to retrofit an existing space like an interior closet.

"Some people reinforce pre-existing spaces in their homes, like walk-in closets or pantries," said Fox News. "Others buy pre-made shelters, like the "StormRoom" from DuPont, which is made of Kevlar and epoxied to a garage floor. The StormRoom has been tested to withstand a Category 5 hurricane (which means it will probably withstand a home invasion as well)."

Prices for safe rooms vary, but FEMA outlines the basic cost to design and construct a safe room from approximately $8,000 to $9,500 for an 8-foot × 8-foot space and $14,000 to $17,000 for a 14-foot × 14-foot safe room. "In general, safe rooms installed in existing homes will be more expensive than those done during new construction," they said.


Storm & Tornado Shelters

But government programs can help offset some of those costs.

"After the recent tornado that flattened much of Moore, Okla., the mayor of that Oklahoma City suburb said a safe room should be required in every new home built in the community," said Bankrate. "Oklahoma is eager for more residents to have safe rooms in the tornado-prone state and has a program offering rebates on new safe rooms of up to 75 percent, or as much as $2,000. Residents who've lost homes to tornadoes are given priority."

Incentives and FEMA funding may be available in other areas. You can start the process by checking with your State Hazard Mitigation Officer.

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