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October 20, 1998

FEMA and Texas Tech Team Up for "Safe Room" Home Tornado Protection

The Federal Emergency Management Agency released a booklet this October on how to build in-residence tornado shelters or "safe rooms" that can provide protection against winds of up to 250 miles per hour and projectiles traveling at 100 miles an hour.

The FEMA publication, titled "Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House," a joint project with the Wind Engineering Research Center of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, is written for builders, contractors and homeowners.

It describes how to construct a shelter underneath a new house, in the basement of a new house, or in an interior room of a new house. The 25-page, illustrated publication also details how to modify an existing house to add a shelter in one of these areas.

"Taking Shelter from the Storm" aims at helping homeowners answer questions on how best to protect themselves and their families. A section on understanding the wind storm hazards defines and illustrates the categories of damage caused by tornadoes and hurricanes, and provides a risk assessment worksheet for the homeowner using wind zone charts and maps. It also details emergency planning and assembling an emergency supply kit.

The booklet's planning section outlines the basis of shelter design including size, retrofitting in existing houses, foundation types and location within the house. In addition, construction plans, materials, and construction cost estimates are detailed for a variety of situations.

"Taking Shelter from the Storm" draws on 25 years of field research by researchers at Texas Tech's Wind Engineering Research Center, including studies of the performance of buildings following dozens of tornadoes throughout the United States and laboratory testing on the performance of building materials and systems when impacted by airborne debris. Texas Tech engineers confirmed design requirements for the expected forces from wind pressures and the impact of typical flying debris. The National Association of Home Builders Research Center evaluated the designs for construction methods, materials and costs.

FEMA's "safe room" project is part of the federal agency's ongoing initiative to encourage people to take measures to protect themselves and their property before disasters occur. With the dramatic increase in the number of deadly tornadoes this year, FEMA has accelerated the development of effective strategies that federal agencies, states, communities and individuals can pursue to protect people and reduce damages from these severe storms.

Officials initiated the in-home "safe room" project in response to numerous requests by state and local emergency management officials and by persons whose homes were either destroyed or significantly damaged by tornadoes and hurricanes for guidance on how to incorporate a safe room into the reconstruction of storm-damaged homes.

"Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House," FEMA Publication 320 (booklet and construction plans), is available through FEMA Publications (1800- 480 2520) The publication also will soon be available on the FEMA website (

Content updated on 7/10/2003

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