On an annual basis, there are approximately 1,200 tornadoes in the United States. While only two percent of these are considered to be “violent tornadoes,” a tornado of any magnitude can be devastating. A violent tornado is one that lasts over an hour, and it can cause damage over one mile wide and 50 miles long.
When people live in an area that experiences tornadoes, it’s important to have tornado shelters to provide protection. Above ground storm shelters are safer than in-ground storm shelters for several reasons.
Above ground tornado shelters are considered to be safer than basements. According to FEMA, this is because the house and basement’s framing and walls might collapse. Other issues that may arise when seeking shelter in a basement relate to the potential for flash flooding, which causes over 140 deaths every year.
While FEMA does state that safe rooms can be constructed in basements within homes or neighborhoods that aren’t prone to flooding, they need to follow strict guidelines in accordance with FEMA P-320 or FEMA P-361.
Another issue with using basement tornado shelters is the potential for limited access. When individuals have physical hardships such as mobility issues, it may be difficult or impossible for them to access the basement.
Some neighborhoods may choose to have a community safe room constructed. When being designed and constructed, these need to allow for one wheelchair space per 200 occupants, according to FEMA.
FEMA states that community safe rooms should also follow the International Code Council American National Standards Institute’s guidelines for access routes. Furthermore, they should provide the minimum usable per person floor area. For each standing or seated person, there should be a minimum of five square feet. For a person in a wheelchair, there should be a minimum of ten square feet, and for a person that is bedridden, there should be a minimum of 30 square feet.
With residential safe rooms, FEMA states that the minimum floor area for one and two-family dwellings should be three square feet per person. For other types of residential safe rooms, five square feet per person is the minimum.
The doors need to be able to resist minimum wind speeds of 250 miles per hour. Furthermore, they also need to be able to withstand debris traveling at 100 miles per hour, according to FEMA.
When properly designed, constructed, and tested, FEMA states that above ground storm shelters can provide life-saving protection during a tornado. Even though tornadoes tend to strike between 3:00 pm and 9:00 pm, they can arise at any time. A major part of tornado preparedness is having an above ground storm shelter.
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