Tornado season is upon us and during this time it is encouraged people prepare a safety plan in case of a weather emergency. In reviewing your safety plan, do you have a safe place for your loved ones and pets in a dire situation? Many have relied on underground shelters to take shelter when the conditions prove necessary. Are these the safest choices for the best protection from a possible tragedy? With modern technology, above-ground safe rooms have become a smarter choice for families.

A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to meet Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) criteria and provide life-safety protection in extreme wind events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. According to FEMA, “above-ground safe rooms are required to be rigorously tested to ensure that they can also provide protection from windborne debris”.

In comparing underground shelters to above-ground shelters, the advantages and disadvantages become clear. While underground shelters provide a safe haven away from the elements, above-ground safe rooms offer families even more protections and much easier accessibility.

Underground Shelters

During the Cold War, fallout shelters or underground shelters, became a growing trend and encouraged by the Government to protect families from fallout from a nuclear weapons attack. When the threat of the Cold War subsided, these shelters became popular for protection from extreme weather situations. Thus, it became a commonplace for areas that were susceptible to extreme weather situations to install similar underground structures.

While a safe solution at the time for severe conditions, there are also disadvantages to this
solution.

  • Because of their location and stairs to reach safety, underground storm shelters are dangerous and less accessible for senior citizens and disabled people.
  • Many young ones find the idea of hiding in an underground storm shelter rather terrifying.
  • Structures are prone to moisture, leaving them vulnerable to rot, molds, algae, pests and rodents,
  • Doors can be blown away leaving families at risk from flying debris.
  • Underground structures are also vulnerable to ground conditions which can cause them to crack or break under pressure or the lack there of.

Underground shelters built within a home also come with the above disadvantages and puts families at risk of being trapped within their shelter if the home or large debris were to collapse upon it.

Above-ground Safe Rooms

Above-ground safe rooms, due to modern technology and engineering, have much more to offer families when it comes to their protection. According to the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA), in 1999, above-ground safe rooms became widely publicized as a family’s above ground storm shelter survived the F5 tornado that swept through Oklahoma devastating the area. This event encouraged FEMA and the State of Oklahoma to put in place incentives for building storm shelters in houses that were being built or rebuilt after the tornado. Underground shelters were not included in these incentives because of the lack of standards or knowledge regarding their safety.

There are many advantages to installing an above-ground safe room.

  • They have been proven to withstand F5 tornadoes.
  • Safe rooms are not prone to flooding from storms as underground shelters are.
  • Families can quickly and easily enter a safe room when emergency strikes, including the elderly, disabled, and pets.
  • There is no threat of flooding or conditional problems as found with underground shelters.
  • They can also serve as a security structure in case of a home invasion.
  • Valuables can be kept safely within these structures
  • They can be installed into pre-existing homes and structures
  • You can take them with you when moving into a new home.
  • Insurance deductions and tax incentives

Do I need a safe room?

Chapter 2 of FEMA P-320 provides information to help homeowners determine whether their home needs a safe room. Building owners should ask themselves several questions when considering whether to install a safe room:

  • What is my risk of tornadoes and/or hurricanes?
  • What existing refuge options do I have if a tornado or hurricane occurs in my location?
  • What level of safety am I comfortable with?
  • How feasible is it to construct a safe room and what are the costs?

Having a safe solution in a weather emergency is crucial for you and your family. Installing an above-ground safe room has many advantages for families versus the traditional underground shelter. While underground shelters may have been the safest solution in the past, today’s above-ground safe rooms are engineered and designed to withstand the most severe conditions, including F5 tornadoes. They also keep families safe from flooding threats, and offer a more efficient and accessible place to go during a severe weather event.