Safe Room Design: What is a Safe Room?
A safe room is a hardened structure built to meet the FEMA criteria for providing near-absolute protection in extreme weather events. Safe rooms protect the people inside from a variety of dangerous weather elements like extreme winds, hail, and flying debris. They are imperative safety measures in areas of the United States that are prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, and other severe and life-threatening weather. After a deadly tornado outbreak in Kansas in 1999, FEMA began to press communities in disaster-prone areas to build safe rooms in residences and public areas like schools and businesses.
Safe rooms can be either above ground or below ground; however, FEMA recommends above ground, heavy-duty safe rooms with anchors for the most reliable protection. Safe rooms are built to specific standards to provide ultimate safety. Currently, the highest-grade safe room design is the FEMA P-320 and P-361. These safe rooms can be located inside or outside a residence or public place and protects against extreme winds up to 250 mph and flying debris that are associated with severe storms.
Though safe rooms are not mandatory in residences and local jurisdictions, the government does provide grants in some states for funding to build safe rooms in schools and other public areas. In the event of a tornado or hurricane, a basement may provide adequate protection, but a safe room is always the most protective choice. Even houses that are built to local codes to withstand high winds are not meant to hold up in disastrous weather such as tornadoes and extreme hurricanes.
Safe Door Design
Safe room door design is the single most important aspect of a safe room. In the event of a tornado or hurricane with extreme winds, the door to a safe room is the one wall that links the people inside to the elements outside. Doors that are not adequately designed to withstand damage and heavy winds can easily come off their hinges and be torn away from the safe room. Though the door usually weighs several hundred pounds in order to offer substantial protection, it also must be easy to operate without failure. Adequately designed safe room doors feature heavy-duty hardware and secure locks in order for the door to be locked quickly from the inside.
Safe Room Benefits
The elements that go into designing a safe room offer protection on all sides: floors, walls, ceilings, and doors. The ground on which the safe room is built is able to support a heavy concrete top layer and several hundred pounds of metal walls.
Residential safe rooms vary in size from 3 to 10 people, whereas large community safe rooms are generally built to hold up to 200 occupants. Safe rooms are ventilated with covered vents at the top to prevent debris from getting into the vent work. Many safe rooms feature fold-down benches and shelving for comfort and storage. While safe rooms offer excellent protection from tornadoes and hurricanes, they also have other uses. They are bulletproof and ventilated, so many homeowners use safe rooms as panic rooms in the event of a burglary or other intruders entering the home. They also offer protection in other disastrous situations, like earthquakes. Safe rooms can be designed to suit individual families’ needs and different climates.
They can be built into existing homes or new construction and be customized to match the home if built outside. Home values in certain areas can actually increase if there is a safe room somewhere on the property. If homeowners don’t want to build a safe room outside or in the basement, they can easily convert an existing area into a safe room, and even have a safe room built around construction so the room interior remains the same.