Weekly “What Is It?”: Safe Rooms

With storms in the news and hurricane season nearly upon us, I’m diverging a bit from my normal topics to address a different kind of “what is it?”

I grew up in east central Mississippi, at the heart of a smaller, less well-known tornado hotspot sometimes known as “Dixie Alley” that runs through the Deep South (LA, TN, MS, AL, GA). I have vivid memories of being a worried 1st grader, huddled head-down against the mural-painted concrete block walls of my elementary school’s hallways as a tornado passed nearby. Tornado drills were as common for us as the “duck and cover” nuclear drills of my parents’ generation.

Many of us know from experience or the news that the safest place during a fierce windstorm is a small, central indoor space with no windows, closed off from the house and with mattresses or pillows piled above. However, the utter devastation shown from the storms in Oklahoma, and a few years back in Tuscaloosa, indicate that if a home is in the direct path of one of these powerful twisters, there’s often no good place to hide. Few Midwesterners or Southerners have either the proper soil or financial means to install an underground shelter or basement. Another, more affordable option is the above-ground shelter known as a safe room.

This steel storm shelter is on display at the Escambia County Extension Office.
This steel storm shelter is on display at the Escambia County Extension Office.

Safe rooms are typically small (4×6’) metal buildings, reinforced with additional materials, which are placed inside a home or garage. They aren’t designed to hold people for long periods of time, like a fallout shelter, but simply a place to ride out a tornado or hurricane. When not in use during an emergency, the shelter can serve double-duty as a closet or garage storage area.

Here at the Extension Office, we have a Windstorm Damage Mitigation Training and Demonstration Center, which is designed to withstand a 200 mph, Category 5 hurricane. Along with examples of storm shutters, wood frame connectors, and hurricane-resistant garage doors, we have a storm safe room available for public viewing. It was designed by engineers at Texas Tech and is a small steel room that comes in panels, easily bolted together. It has room for approximately eight people in the short term and four for a longer-lasting hurricane situation.

Information about the storm shelter
Information about the storm shelter


In yesterday’s USA Today, the paper reports that demand for safe rooms has skyrocketed since the Oklahoma tornadoes. Hurricane season is upon us in less than two weeks, and many locals will evaluate their emergency plans and assess any needs. Even if we avoid another hurricane, Florida ranks #4 in the nation for “most frequent tornadoes.” If you have questions about safe rooms or any other strategies for hardening your home against windstorms, come by the Extension Office any weekday between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm. To arrange a tour, contact me at 850-475-5230 or ctsteven@ufl.edu. In addition, you may want to contact the local Rebuild Northwest Florida agency to find out more about cost-saving measures to protect your home from storms.






Posted: May 23, 2013

Category: Disaster Preparation, Work & Life
Tags: Hurricane, Storm Shelter, Tornado, Windstorm Damage Mitigation

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