When thinking of tornado shelters, the common
image most people have in their minds is the scene from the
movie The Wizard of Oz where the family at the beginning of
the movie is scrambling across their farm to get to their underground
shelter out in the middle of the field.
While it is still true that some farming families
still use this kind of shelter, many people who have to take
cover in tornado shelters don't run to a shelter in an open
Modern history and reality have taught us that
tornadoes can and have hit every state in the contiguous U.S.,
and many of them hit cities and populated residential areas-not
just farms out in the middle of Kansas.
And even if someone does live out in the middle
of Kansas, it may not be practical or financially feasible to
build an underground shelter. So what are the options for building
practical tornado shelters? And why should everyone (no matter
where you live) consider having one?
Safe Rooms: Tornado Shelters Built Into Your
Home Right Where You Are
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (also
known as FEMA) is now using the term "safe room" or
"safe rooms" when referring to tornado shelters because
it's a common understanding that when a tornado hits a town
or a city, most people flee to their homes or they are already
at home when the tornado strikes. Anyone who's been through
a tornado (or the threat of one) knows that in most cases people
have just a few minutes-sometimes just seconds-to take cover.
This is not a time to be running outside to find
shelter. You have to shelter "in place." That's why
FEMA uses the term safe rooms. It's a proven fact that many
tornado victims have to "shelter in place" and having
a safe room or shelter in their own home often saves lives and
Often tornado shelters are built into basements for the obvious
reason that they are below ground at least to some extent and
are reinforced with concrete or solid concrete block walls.
But there are a lot of people who live in tornado-prone areas
of the U.S. who do not have basements at all.
People in those situations are not without options
though. Tornado shelters or safe rooms can be built in or onto
the exterior of your home as a simple addition, no bigger than
a large closet if necessary. There is also the option of building
a shelter in an existing garage, into the framework of a carport,
or on top of a concrete patio next to your home.
The size required for tornado shelters or safe
rooms in or adjacent to your home will depend on how many people
you need to fit in it. If just a few people need to use the
shelter, the option of building a small closet-size safe room
on the side of a house or in a corner of a garage built out
of concrete blocks and some other basic materials is a fairly
easy task to carry out and is really not all that expensive.
Tornado Shelters Can Do Double Duty as Protection
from Fire and Other Threats
Shelters or safe rooms go beyond helping provide
protection when tornadoes approach. If built out of fireproof
materials such as concrete or cement and steel, they can provide
shelter from wildfires, which affect much of the U.S. And even
in the case where a neighbor's house catches on fire in the
middle of the night, an "in place" shelter can keep
you safe if you're not able to vacate your own home in time.
Everyone also knows that the American home is
not the safe sanctuary that it was decades ago. In spite of
all we do to protect ourselves from crime and intruders, events
such as home invasions are unfortunately very common. Tornado
shelters and safe rooms can do double duty as a place to escape
to when an intruder forces their way into your home can be a
great life saving measure, providing you protection until help