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Which Safe Room Is Right for Your Family?

Deciding on the floor plan and other finishes in a home are important, but don’t overlook including a safe room or storm shelter in a house design.


What option is best for your family? An underground shelter, an in-floor option in the garage or a safe room built inside the home/garage? In addition to the type of shelter, homeowners will need to decide its placement in the home. This will include new construction and possibly retrofitting an existing structure.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s publication, FEMA P-320 Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business, can help with the decision-making process. The publication provides detailed guidance for building a residential safe room designed to serve up to 16 people and includes guidelines for basement, above-ground and in-ground safe rooms. These guidelines also are useful for a small business looking to install a safe room.


Those needing a safe room for more than 16 people should consult another FEMA publication, P-361 Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms.


Having a safe place to go in your home can mean the difference in surviving a tornado. Homeowners need to carefully consider their situation when planning a storm shelter, said Gina Peek, interim associate dean and Oklahoma State University Extension housing and consumer specialist.


“Older residents or those with young children may find it easier to access a safe room built into a basement or closet. A shelter built below the floor or installed in the backyard may be an option for others,” Peek said.


Those who opt to install a safe room, whether during construction of a home or retrofitting an existing home, should share the appropriate FEMA publications with their contractor. Any safe room should be built to those federal standards.


Basement safe rooms can be built to FEMA P-320 specifications using one or more exterior basement walls or as a freestanding structure within the basement. Meanwhile, above-ground safe rooms typically offer quicker access and usually are easier for older adults, children and pets to use.


In-ground safe rooms built to FEMA P-320 specifications can be placed in different areas of the house – below the home, for example, beneath the garage floor or within 150 feet from the house. When deciding whether to choose an in-ground safe room, homeowners must also consider the potential for flooding.


According to FEMA P-320, the United States is divided into four zones that geographically reflect the number and strength of recorded extreme windstorms. All of Oklahoma, except the two most western counties in the Panhandle, falls into Zone IV. This zone has experienced the most and the strongest tornado activity.


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