FEMA: Building A `Safe Room' Into Your House--For Tornados And Hurricanes (& Y2K)

greenspun.com : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Published Saturday, September 25, 1999, in the San Jose Mercury News

Building a `safe room' into your house

Chicago Tribune


[Fair Use: For Educational/Research Purposes Only]

CHICAGO -- Let me take you on a tour of our houses' special-function rooms -- spaces for very limited activities that come under the heading ``only in America.'' ...


This ancestor was the ``fallout shelter,'' an ostensible haven from nuclear attack and its horrible aftermath, where we would huddle until somehow it became safe to come out to see what remained of the world. Naive, perhaps, but Americans built these shelters by the thousands, and there's still some interest in them, probably owing to Y2K concerns. Plans for them -- some of them taken directly from vintage government brochures -- still can be found on the Internet.

I guess what's old is new again, judging by a kindly suggestion from the same federal government that showed us how to protect ourselves against nuclear winter: How about a tornado shelter?

Indeed, why not? That's the recent proposal of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has developed construction plans for home ``safe rooms'' that are designed to withstand winds of 250 mph and protection from flying debris up to100 miles an hour.

FEMA worked with the Wind Research Center at Texas Tech University in Lubbock to develop ``Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House,'' a 28-page guide to plans, materials and cost estimates for various kinds of storm shelters. It's contained online at


or it can be obtained by calling (888) 565-3896; it's free. In the first couple of months it was offered, FEMA received more than 111,000 phone requests for the plans. In July, more than 8,000 took the plans off the Web site.

Although FEMA offers help on how to go about retrofitting an existing home, the agency suggests that it's simpler and cheaper to include a tornado safe room in plans for a new home. The critical design element is that the shelter's walls are separate from the walls of the house so that it might remain standing after a tornado, even if the house itself didn't. FEMA's cost estimates range from $2,000 to $6,000, depending on the type of house, the shelter's location and the materials used.


-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), September 25, 1999


Dare I ask...

I can understand having a room such as this for tornados or hurricanes, but exactly what purpose would it serve in relation to Y2k concerns?

-- CD (not@here.com), September 25, 1999.

Hey CD,

Just being a "digital reporter" today. Personally... "solid" preps makes sense to me... both in the event of manmade and natural disasters.

Diane, sitting lightly in earthquake country

-- Diane J. Squire (sacredspaces@yahoo.com), September 25, 1999.

Now THAT I can understand.

-- CD (not@here.com), September 25, 1999.

It doesn't cost a LOT more to use polycarbonate rock wool bullet resistant batts for insulating the Hard Room from a LOT of things that fly.......

These would be the same batts that are sometimes used to bullet- resistant modify cars.


-- Chuck, a night driver (rienzoo@en.com), September 25, 1999.

Chuck, 'polycarbonate rock wool bullet resistant batts'.....say what? I know I'm showing my blind spot here, but what is this and where do you get it? We have some very large windows and have been in a quandry as to what material one might cover them with for max protection. We'd like to have some prefitted, predrilled, ready to install only if needed stuff. This sounds really good.

-- Shelia (Shelia@active-stream.com), September 25, 1999.

Diane, Thanks for the info. I am always amazed at what you come up with. Lili

-- lili po (lili po@aol.com), September 25, 1999.

thanks, diane! as a Skywarn volunteer, i am always looking for stuff like this to pass on!

-- jocelyne slough (jonslough@tln.net), September 25, 1999.


You should be very careful in assuming that these shelter rooms that are designed to stand up to the wind forces of tornadoes would also stand up to an earthquake. The forces applied are completely different, and it is quite concievable that this room would come right down in the middle of a moderate to significant earthquake.

If you are planning on investigating them further, I would suggest that you get the plans and have them reviewed by an architect specially trained in the design of earthquake resistant structures.

BTW, you should here hear it when the guys at WRC at Tech fire off the "wind cannon" that they use to test materials and structures. It'll sell you on one of those rooms in a heartbeat!

-- Paul Neuhardt (neuahrdt@ultranet.com), September 26, 1999.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ