Tornado Safe Room Guidance

Tornado Safe Room Definition

A safe room is a hardened structure specifically designed to protect its occupants from extreme weather events, including tornadoes and hurricanes. The level of protection provided by a safe room is a function of its design parameters, including the design wind speed, wind pressure and wind-borne debris impacts.

Safe rooms constructed in accordance with FEMA guidance are intended to provide near-absolute protection in extreme weather events. To be considered a FEMA safe room, the safe room must be designed and constructed in accordance with the criteria specified in FEMA P-361 – to which the drawings in FEMA P-320 were designed – as well as all applicable federal, state and local codes. When questions arise pertaining to the differences between FEMA P-361 and another code or standard, the most conservative criteria should apply.

A residential safe room serves occupants of dwelling units and has an occupant load of 16 persons or fewer. A community safe room is any safe room not defined as a residential safe room. The prescriptive solutions presented in FEMA P-320 may also be applied to community safe rooms if additional detailing and considerations are made to accommodate the unique requirements of community safe rooms.

Link to FEMA’s Community Safe Room Fact Sheet


Building Code Resources Related to Hurricane and Tornado Shelters

Highlights of ICC 500-2014, ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (September 2015)

The International Code Council (ICC) 500-2014 is a referenced standard in the 2015 editions of the IBC, IRC and FEMA P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms.  Buildings or spaces designated for use as a shelter from tornadoes and/or hurricanes within the scope of the IBC and IRC must conform to the requirements in ICC 500.  Highlights of ICC 500-2014 cover Administration and Oversight; Structural Design Criteria; Occupancy, Means of Egress, and Access; Fire Protection, Essential Features, and Accessories; and Test Methods.  The highlights paper also covers significant changes made to the 2014 edition compared to the 2008 edition of ICC 500.


Residential Tornado Safe Room Doors Fact Sheet

December 2018

The updated Residential Tornado Safe Room Doors Fact Sheet provides information regarding selecting a safe room door assembly.

Residential safe rooms are becoming more popular as families seek protection from violent tornadoes.  Like any other room, safe rooms must be accessed through an opening or door.  Just as the walls and roof of a safe room are designed and built to protect against extreme winds and wind-borne debris, so must the safe room door.  When careful selection and installation of the safe room door assembly is overlooked, the safe room door opening can leave occupants at great risk of injury or death during tornadoes.  This fact sheet provides graphics and useful information about selecting adequate door assemblies for residential safe rooms.  The December 2018 version of this fact sheet reflects the updates made to ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC® 500) from the first to second edition.


Community Tornado Safe Room Doors Installation and Maintenance Fact Sheet

November 2018

The new Fact Sheet, Community Tornado Safe Room Doors: Installation and Maintenance, provides information about the selection, installation, and maintenance of safe room door assemblies for community safe rooms.

Safe room door assemblies are one of the most important components of a safe room because they must provide the same level of protection as the walls and roof, yet also remain functional for quick access.  This fact sheet provides information about the selection, installation, and maintenance of safe room door assemblies for community safe rooms.  It is recommended that safe room door assembles are regularly maintained to protect their functionality and maximize their life span.  The fact sheet covers what should be checked and how often, as well as several solutions related to the maintenance of safe room door assemblies.  While the fact sheet discusses community safe room door assemblies, some of the information in the fact sheet is pertinent to owners of residential safe rooms.

For more information, FEMA’s Safe Room Resources webpage.


Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms (FEMA P-361) 

April 2015  

Cover photo for the document: FEMA P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms, Third Edition (2015)

This publication presents important information about the design and construction of community and residential safe rooms that will provide protection during tornado and hurricane events. The third edition of FEMA P-361 presents updated and refined criteria for safe rooms compared to the second edition’s 2008 criteria.  FEMA P-361 provides the most current, up-to-date guidance on constructing a safe room that provides near-absolute protection from the deadly winds and windborne debris associated with extreme-wind events for its occupants. This edition also features clarified guidance and revised commentary to reflect 6 more years of post-damage assessments and lessons learned, including those based on many safe rooms directly impacted by tornadoes.

FEMA P-361 includes information for safe room designers, owners, and emergency management officials useful for planning, designing, and operating a safe room. Especially useful for designers, Part B of the publication has eight chapters that correspond to the chapters of the International Code Council’s® Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC/NSSA, 2014), known as ICC 500. Each chapter in Part B identifies any differences between FEMA recommended criteria and ICC 500 requirements. All safe rooms constructed with FEMA grant funds must adhere to the FEMA recommended criteria described in Part B of FEMA P-361. Link to the publication at https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/3140.


Foundation and Anchoring Criteria for Safe Rooms

 October 2015

FEMA’s Building Science Branch presents the Foundation and Anchoring Criteria for Safe Rooms Fact Sheet.  Prefabricated safe rooms are becoming more popular as people seek protection from tornadoes. Due to the extreme forces safe rooms may experience, there are very specific foundation and anchoring requirements that, if overlooked, can leave occupants at risk of injury or death during tornadoes. The content in the Foundation and Anchoring Criteria for Safe Rooms Fact Sheet intends to help communities and people seek protection from tornadoes through measures they take when securing a safe room. The purpose of this Fact Sheet is to make homeowners, builders, safe room manufacturers, and design professionals aware of the requirements for safe room foundations and anchoring. This is part of FEMA’s ongoing mitigation effort to lessen the impact that disasters have on people and property. This fact sheet provides graphics and useful information about the foundation and anchoring criteria in FEMA P-361, Safe Rooms for Tornadoes and Hurricanes: Guidance for Community and Residential Safe Rooms, Third Edition, which uses ICC 500, Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, as a referenced standard.  See information on this publication above.


Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room (P-320) 

December 2014.  

FEMA updated FEMA_P-320_2014_508  Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business.  A safe room built for your home or small business can provide near-absolute protection for you and your family or employees from injury or death caused by the dangerous forces of extreme winds such as tornadoes and hurricanes. FEMA P-320 helps home or small business owners assess their risk and determine the best type of safe room for their needs. Since the first edition of FEMA P-320 was issued in 1998, more than 1,000,000 copies of the publication have been distributed, and FEMA grant programs have provided approximately $985 million in federal funds towards the design and construction of nearly 25,000 residential and 2,000 community safe rooms in 25 states and territories. This investment aligns with FEMA’s strategic goal to support disaster resilience and the ability of our local communities to withstand and recover rapidly from disasters.


Frequently Asked Questions: Tornado/Hurricane Safe Rooms

Please find additional frequently asked questions regarding FEMA safe rooms at http://www.fema.gov/safe-rooms/frequently-asked-questions-tornado/hurricane-safe-rooms.

For example …  What is the minimum square footage per person for a tornado community safe room?  For a tornado community safe room, the number of spaces for standing or seated, wheelchair-bound or bedridden people should be determined based on the expected occupancy of the safe room as calculated by the designer and the applicable authority having jurisdiction. However, each community safe room should be sized to accommodate at least one wheelchair space for every 200 occupants.  It is also important to note that floor areas within community safe rooms should have an access route in accordance with the International Code Council (ICC)/American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A117.1, Standard on Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities. The Table below shows the minimum safe room floor area per occupant for tornado community safe rooms.  *See FEMA P-361 for more information on usable safe room floor area.

Tornado Community Safe Room OccupantMinimum Usable Floor Area* per Safe Room Occupant
Standing or Seated5 square feet
Wheelchair Bound10 square feet
Bedridden30 square feet

FEMA Safe Room Helpline.  If you need additional information, please contact the FEMA Safe Room Helpline by email at saferoom@fema.dhs.gov or by calling 866-927-2104.