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Welcome to the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency's Safe Room Information page. The purpose of this page is to provide residents of Madison County with information about safe rooms as well as to provide links to official FEMA publications.
No more safe room applications are being accepted by the State of Alabama and FEMA with respect to hazard mitigation funds resulting from the April 27, 2011 tornado event.
Final update concerning the Safe Room Grant as of May 3, 2012:
We have contacted the State of Alabama today to see if perhaps any additional funding would be coming to Madison County for storm shelters or safe rooms. We were advised by the Alabama Emergency Management Agency that they have more hazard mitigation applications on hand than available funding. The state advised us that there would be no more applications accepted for safe room funding related to the April 27, 2011 tornado disaster. The State of Alabama stated that a new disaster resulting in a federal declaration would have to occur for more post disaster mitigation funding to be made available. The tornadoes of March 2, 2012 did not rise to this level. We were able to contact numbers 1-300 on our list and extend an opportunity to those individuals to receive safe room funding related to the April 27, 2011 disaster.
Based on the above notification from the State, we will no longer maintain our current list of applicants for safe rooms funded by the April 27, 2011 post disaster mitigation grant funding. Should any funding become available that can be used for saferooms, we will initiate another request for applicants as we have previously.
Already have an existing shelter or safe room? Register the location:
Click here to return to our front page where links to register your shelter or safe room are located.
Know Your Risk And Have A Safe Place To Go
When severe weather threatens, individuals and families need protection from the dangerous forces of extreme winds. Individuals and communities in the high-risk tornado and hurricane areas have begun to address the need and benefits of residential and community shelters. Specific guidance is available from FEMA...for the construction of both residential and community shelters. - FEMA
Frequently Asked Questions from the FEMA website:
Q: What is the cost of installing a safe room in a new home or small business?
A. Costs for construction of both vary across the United States. The cost for constructing a safe room which can double as a master closet, bathroom, or utility room, inside a new home or small business can range from approximately $6,500 to $8,500. This cost range is applicable to the basic designs in FEMA 320 that provide an 8-foot by 8-foot safe room (approximately 64 square feet of protected space), Larger, more refined designs for greater comfort will cost more, with 14-foot by 14-foot safe rooms ranging in cost from approximately $11,500 to $13,500. The cost of the safe room can vary significantly depending on the following factors:The size of the safe room
The location of the safe room within the home or small business
The number of exterior home walls used in the construction of the safe room
The type of foundation on which the safe room is constructed
For additional cost information for small safe rooms in a home or small business, see FEMA 320, Section II, page 34. For additional cost information for community safe rooms, see FEMA 361, Section 2.3, page 2-21. Note: In the spring of 2010, FEMA-sponsored post-event tornado investigations in the southeast found that in some areas, pre-fabricated safe rooms have been installed through federally support grant programs for less than $5,000 each. The simple, below-grade residential safe rooms provide less than 50 square feet of total space and are typically installed or constructed away from a home or business. A comparison to the performance of above-ground, in-residence safe rooms (as described above) could not be made since this type of safe room was not observed in the affected areas.
Q: Can I install a safe room in an existing home?
A: Installing a safe room in an existing home or small business is typically more expensive and challenging than in a new home. Modifying the walls or foundation of an existing building for the construction of a safe room is more complicated than constructing those elements new, and as a result, some of the prescriptive safe room designs provided in FEMA 320 are not practical for some existing homes. Typically, installing a safe room in an existing home costs 20 percent more than installing the same safe room in a new home under construction. Due to the technical challenges involved in retrofitting an existing home for a safe room, an architect or engineer should be consulted to address the structural issues and the debris protection criteria, even when not required by the local building department. As such, homeowners must balance the desire to have protection within their home with practicality of constructing a safe room outside the footprint of their existing home or structure for less money.
For more information on the technical challenges involved in retrofitting existing buildings with a safe room, see FEMA 320, Section II, page 25, and FEMA 361, Section 5.3.2, page 5-7.
Q: Can a homeowner build the safe room themselves?
A: A homeowner who builds a safe room should be skilled in building construction. Some pre-fabricated safe rooms are available that require less building construction experience to successfully install. In purchasing any safe room, the homeowner should obtain documentation that it meets the FEMA safe room design and protection criteria.
The National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) is a non-profit organization with a quality verification and seal program. Members of the NSSA that manufacture and construct residential safe rooms submit their designs to the NSSA for third-party design reviews to ensure verification of compliance with FEMA 320 criteria. This organization is also helpful in validating vendor claims of compliance with FEMA criteria for safe rooms. Their Web site (http://www.nssa.cc) is a good place to find verified safe room vendors.
Q: Where is the best location for the safe room?
A: There are several possible locations in or near your home or small business for a safe room. The most convenient location in most homes is in the basement. If there is no basement within the home, or if the walls of the basement do not meet FEMA 320 design criteria, an in-ground safe room can be installed beneath a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or concrete garage floor. In-ground and basement safe rooms provide the highest level of protection against missiles and falling debris because they are typically shielded from direct forces of wind and debris; however, above-ground designs, such as the prescriptive designs provided in FEMA 320, or any solution following the criteria set forth in FEMA 361 will provide near-absolute protection.
Many individuals prefer to remain within their homes or building so they are afforded some level of protection while attempting to access their safe room. For an existing home or small business, this convenience must be balanced with the challenges of retrofitting the building. For more information on the selecting the location of a safe room within your home or small business, see FEMA 320, Section II, page 27.
Q: Where can I find additional information and plans for safe room construction?
A: You can order FEMA’s publication 320, Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your Home or Small Business, and the accompanying construction plans and specifications, by calling 1-800-480-2520. You can also visit the FEMA Safe Room website at http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/shplans/. For additional information on safe rooms and design criteria, you may also want to obtain FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance of Community Safe Rooms. Chapter 3 of the 2008 edition of this publication contains the design criteria for both residential and community safe rooms.
Q: Are safe rooms recommeded for homes in hurricane-prone areas?
A: An increasing number of homeowners are building safe rooms to protect their families from the high winds of hurricanes, or because they are unsure whether they will be able to safely evacuate in advance of a storm event. FEMA 320 offers prescriptive safe room design solutions that are appropriate for both tornado and hurricane hazards, and FEMA 361 offers design guidance for residential and community safe rooms for both hazards as well. However, the flood design criteria for safe rooms states that a residential safe room should not be located in any of the following areas:
Areas seaward of the Limit of Moderate Wave Action (LiMWA) where mapped, also referred to as the Coastal A Zone in ASCE 24-05, Flood Resistant Design and Construction
When a safe room can be constructed to comply with these criteria, the use of a safe room is appropriate. Homeowners in hurricane-prone areas should always follow the evacuation guidance or orders of their local government or emergency management officials. Evacuations are called to provide safety for individuals and their families when a hurricane threatens. For more information, see FEMA 320, Section I, page 6, and FEMA 361, Section 3.6.2, page 3-31.
Q: What is the market for residential safe rooms? Who wants them?
A: FEMA has not conducted market research for safe room use in residential or commercial uses. However, since 1999, over 500,000 copies of FEMA 320, Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your Home or Small Business, have been distributed. Informal surveys of individuals who ordered this publication found that approximately one-quarter of those surveyed anticipated building a safe room within 1 year. In areas that have recently been affected by hurricanes or tornadoes, the interest in safe rooms is much higher.
Q: My house has a basement; do I need a safe room?
A: Some strong tornadoes have resulted in loss of the floor framing, collapse of basement walls, and death and injuries to individuals taking refuge in a basement. What constitutes an acceptable level of protection is an individual decision. A basement maybe the safest place to seek shelter for homes without a safe room, but it will not provide the same level of protection as a safe room unless it has been designed and constructed to provide protection.
Basements are a good location to install a shelter or build a safe room, but access for handicapped or physically challenged individuals may be limited. The flood risk of your location may also affect whether or not it is appropriate to place a safe room in your basement. If your house or neighborhood is prone to flooding, the basement may not be an appropriate location for taking refuge or for installing a safe room.
Q: Do any local jurisdictions require safe rooms?
A: Local jurisdictions generally do not require safe rooms or shelters. However, some communities have offered incentives for owners who wish to build a shelter or safe room, including reduced property taxes. Some State and local governments have engaged in grant programs with the Federal government to partially subsidize the construction of safe rooms, both residential and community.
In 2008, the International Code Council (ICC) released the ICC-500, ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. This standard presents design criteria for tornado and hurricane shelters, which for some types of shelters provide similar or slightly less protection than that afforded by a safe room constructed to the FEMA 320 and FEMA 361 criteria. This standard is available, as is FEMA 320 and FEMA 361, for adoption by local jurisdictions as the minimum design criteria for a safe room or shelter, but only local jurisdictions can mandate whether or not a safe room or shelter is required. Additionally, the 2009 International Building Code (IBC) and International Residential Code (IRC) each have incorporated the ICC-500 shelter standard. As such, any jurisdiction that has adopted these codes (or based their State or local code on these codes) has adopted the ICC-500 as the standard for the design and construction of hurricane and tornado shelters in their jurisdictions. However, it is important to note that although a jurisdiction has adopted the standard, this does not mean that shelters are required. Rather, the adoption of the standard simply provides the criteria to which a shelter should be constructed; its does not mandate that shelters should be constructed within a home or business.
Q: Are inspections required?
A: Obtaining the proper building permits and inspections is important for all construction. The builder or homeowner should ensure that the safe room is built according to the plans in FEMA 320 or to plans that, through testing and engineering have been determined to meet the safe room design criteria in FEMA 320 or FEMA 361. This level of construction typically requires a permit from the building department. Further, compliance with the FEMA or ICC criteria requires additional quality control inspections for community safe rooms, and often for residential safe rooms as well.
Q: Is there a FEMA approval process?
A: FEMA does not have an approval process for reviewing or certifying the design or construction of safe rooms. The designs in FEMA 320 meet FEMA’s goal of providing near-absolute protection through the construction of a safe room. Safe rooms that meet the criteria in FEMA 361 also meet this goal. To determine if your safe room meets these requirements, contact a local design professional or the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA).
Q: Where do I find the doors and hardware for my in residence shelter?
A: Doors and hardware that provide protection for a safe room may be constructed from common building materials or purchased from manufacturers. FEMA 320 (see drawing number MS-02) provides the details necessary to construct a safe room door using for 14- and 12-gauge steel panels. Alternatively, a home or business owner may purchase a door from a manufacturer that has been produced to meet the performance criteria set forth in FEMA 320 and FEMA 361 and install it in a safe room. FEMA does not certify specific products for use, but any manufacturer can have their products tested to demonstrate that the FEMA criteria have been met. The National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) provides approved product listings for safe room components or to verify vendor claims of standards compliance for tornado and hurricane safe rooms and components.
Q: How do I find vendors for shelters or safe room construction?
A: The designs in FEMA 320 can be built by most residential contractors. The qualifications and reputation of any contractor can be checked by the homeowner for all projects. As previously mentioned, the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) is a non-profit organization with a quality verification and seal program. Members of the NSSA that manufacture and construct residential safe rooms submit their designs to the NSSA for third-party design reviews to ensure association support for compliance with FEMA 320. Their Web site (http://www.nssa.cc) is a good place to find verified safe room vendors.
If you are unsure a safe room or shelter product meets the FEMA 320 or FEMA 361 criteria you may contact your local or State emergency management office or FEMA directly. If you are contacting FEMA directly, you can obtain safe room specific guidance from the safe room help line via telephone at 866-222-3580 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Wind Engineering Research Center at Texas Tech University also provides technical guidance about safe rooms and shelters. Their toll free number is 1-888-946-3287, ext. 336.
Q: Besides FEMA guidance, what other codes and standards are available for safe rooms and community shelters?
A: In August 2008, the International Code Council (ICC), with the support of the National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA), released a consensus standard on the design and construction of storm shelters: ICC-500, ICC/NSSA Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters. This standard codifies much of the extreme-wind shelter recommendations of the early editions of FEMA 320 and 361. The ICC-500 provides minimum design and construction requirements that may be adopted by local jurisdictions for extreme-wind storm shelters, though it does not provide the same near-absolute protection of FEMA 361 and 320 (2008 editions).
Although FEMA criteria and the ICC criteria are based upon the same hazard identification (i.e., they use the same design wind speed maps), there are differences in the wind and debris impact protection afforded by the FEMA criteria. Further, the FEMA criteria provide limitations on the placement of safe rooms in flood hazard areas for emergency management reasons.
Q: Where can I go to download the prescriptive design drawings referenced in FEMA 320?
A: FEMA 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (Third Edition, 2008) can be downloaded from the FEMA library web site: http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1536. At the bottom of the page is a resource file link that allows users to download the in-residence and small business safe room design drawings. See also http://www.fema.gov/plan/prevent/saferoom/shplans/ for a list of the drawings and their links.
Q: What design wind speed should be used to design a tornado or hurricane safe room?
A: The design wind speed for a FEMA safe room is based on the risk of extreme wind events occurring at a given location. In 2008, FEMA and the International Code Council (ICC) jointly published new wind hazard maps that incorporate both historical events and the probabilistic occurrence of tornadoes and hurricanes. The safe room design wind speed maps for tornadoes and hurricanes are presented in Figures 3-1 and 3-2, respectively, in FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (Second Edition, 2008, http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=1657). Each map identifies wind speed regions, and the proposed safe room location must be identified on the map to find the appropriate design wind speed. For the tornado hazard, the safe room design wind speed is based on its location in one of four regions (Figure 3-1 of FEMA 361). For the hurricane hazard, the safe room design wind speed is based on its location in relation to wind speed “contours” (Figure 3-2 of FEMA 361). If the safe room site is between two wind speed contours, the safe room design wind speed should either be interpolated or based on the higher of the two contours.
The safe room design wind speed maps presented in FEMA 361 are also presented in the ICC/National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC 500, 2008).
Q: What is the minimum square footage per person that should be provided in a safe room?
A: Square footage per person design criteria are described in FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (Second Edition, 2008), Sections 3.3.1(n), 3.4.1(n), and 3.5.1(n) for tornado, hurricane, and residential safe rooms, respectively. See Tables 3-1, 3-3, and 3-5 from FEMA 361 for tabular summaries of the minimum recommended usable floor area in sf per safe room occupant.
In general, when designing tornado safe rooms, the criteria for minimum square footage are 5 square feet (sf) per person for standing or seated occupants, 10 sf per person for wheelchair-bound occupants, and 30 sf per person for bedridden occupants.
For hurricane safe rooms, the minimum criteria are 20 sf per person for standing or seated occupants, 20 sf per person for wheelchair-bound occupants, and 40 sf per person for bedridden occupants. FEMA 361 also presents criteria for additional square footage when the occupant load is 200 individuals or more.
For residential safe rooms (for one- and two-family dwellings), a minimum of 3 sf per occupant is required.
When calculating minimum square footage, it is important to account for egress pathways, partitions and walls, columns, fixed or movable objects, furniture, equipment, and other elements that may reduce usable or net square footage available within a particular safe room. Determining the size of the safe room requires additional calculations beyond the maximum number of occupants x the square footage criteria noted above. See Sections 3.3.1(o), 3.4.1(o), and 3.5.1(n) in FEMA 361 for more details.
Q: Are there any location restrictions for a safe room?
A: Yes. Safe rooms should be located outside known flood-prone areas, including the 500-year floodplain and areas susceptible to storm surge inundation as defined in Chapter 3 of FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (Second Edition, 2008). Additionally, safe rooms should be located away from any potential large windborne debris source. For additional information on location restrictions, see Section 5.7 in FEMA 361.
Q: What is the difference between a small community safe room and a community safe room?
A: A small community safe room is a safe room intended to hold 16 or fewer occupants. For small community safe rooms, the prescriptive solutions presented in FEMA 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (Third Edition, 2008) may be used when approved by the Authority Having Jurisdiction.
Q: What are the design requirements for a FEMA safe room?
A: Design requirements are described in FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms (Second Edition, 2008); FEMA 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business (Third Edition, 2008); International Code Council (ICC)/National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters (ICC 500, 2008); and all applicable Federal, State, and local codes.
FEMA 361, Design and Construction Guidance for Community Safe Rooms, Second Edition, Washington, DC, August 2008.
FEMA 320, Taking Shelter from the Storm: Building a Safe Room for Your Home or Small Business, Third Edition, Washington, DC, August 2008.
International Code Council (ICC)/National Storm Shelter Association (NSSA) Standard for the Design and Construction of Storm Shelters, ICC 500, Washington, DC, 2008.
Q: Does FEMA approve, endorse, or certify any products?
A: Due to proprietary concerns and Federal policy, FEMA does not endorse, approve, certify, or recommend any products. While a product may be in compliance with a specific FEMA design guidance, any language from manufacturers that states their product is “FEMA approved” or “FEMA certified” is not factually correct.
Q: Does FEMA verify or certify design calculations published by manufacturers for their products?
A: FEMA does not verify or certify design calculations for any product. The design professional who signs a certification attests that the product in question will meet the requirements specified on the certification. The design professional should be licensed in the state in which the product will be used. Furthermore, any product must be properly installed for its intended use only.
Saferoom Worksheet note: The Huntsville - Madison County Emergency Management Agency will contact individuals for saferoom projects as funds become available. At that time a link to the saferoom application worksheet will be included in the notification.
Huntsville-Madison County, Alabama