3 Things to Evaluate When Researching a Community Shelter

1. Assess the threat of the occurrence of an extreme weather event.

Within the United States, there are four geographic areas, each with unique conditions that lead to differences in wind speeds. Storm shelters must be able to withstand their specific region’s potential wind speeds to comply with FEMA guidelines. These four wind speed zones are defined by the minimum wind speed that storm shelters must be able to withstand to keep occupants safe. Depending on the wind speed zone, your storm shelter must be able to withstand 130mph, 160mph, 200mph or even 250mph winds. Learn more about wind speed zones here. If your community is in the southeastern United States, FEMA offers information on other tornado risk factors your community may face here.

2. Assess Vulnerable Population Size

Determining the appropriate shelter size for your community can be a challenge, luckily, FEMA offers a guide for how to calculate the shelter size needed and required based on the number of vulnerable, unprotected people in your community. These people can include stay-at-home family members in households without storm shelters, individuals who work in areas without storm shelters, outdoor labor workers and community members who are out and about. Below are two methods published by FEMA in their Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes guidebook (p153) to calculate the usable storm shelter/safe room floor area in an existing or new storm shelter/safe room needed.  

Method One

  1. Reduce the gross floor area of safe rooms with concentrated furnishings or fixed seating by at least 50%
  2. Reduce the gross floor area of safe rooms with unconcentrated furnishings and without fixed seating by at least 35%
  3. Reduce the gross floor area of safe rooms with open plan furnishings and without fixed seating by at least 15%

Method Two

Reduce the gross area of the safe room by excluding spaces associated with partitions and walls, columns, fixed or movable equipment or any other features that cannot be moved. The remaining area is considered the usable storm shelter/safe room area. To learn more about determining the size of your shelter, refer to the official FEMA guidelines here.

What this means is, to calculate enough space for each storm shelter occupant, you must subtract any floor area that is occupied by walls, or any other piece of furniture or appliance that cannot be removed from the total floor space of your shelter.

Determine the most accessible location to install a storm shelter in your community

It is imperative that the community can access the community storm shelter once it is installed. They are often installed in locations such as community recreation areas like indoor sports arenas, volunteer fire departments and other community-based locations. According to FEMA, the accessibility of a site correlates to the population of the anticipated storm shelter service. The people the storm shelter is meant to protect should be able to travel to the shelter quickly using “designated pedestrian pathways” if roads are blocked, or they are otherwise unable to drive due to weather restrictions or other causes. FEMA also states, “the pathway to a safe room should not have restrictions or obstructions, such as multi-lane highways, railroad tracks, bridges, or similar facilities or topographic features.”

To see if your community already has a storm shelter installed, visit your city, state or community’s official website to research their emergency preparedness plan, or text SHELTER and your ZIP code to 43362 and FEMA will alert you to open shelters in your area.

Are you tasked to research options for a storm shelter in your community? Contact RemainSafe today. Our product specialist will conduct a site visit and assist in the research and proposal phase of your project.  We’re happy to help.