Creating a Safe Room in Your Home
When the tornado siren sounds or high winds and tropical storms are headed your way, do you know where to take shelter?
Locating and choosing a safe room is an important and necessary step to emergency preparedness for any home. The words "safe room" might also bring to the images from the movie "Panic Room" starring Jodie Foster.
"There's a difference between a room for shelter reasons and one for security reasons," says Rick Tobin, TAO Emergency Management Consultant. "It is important to consider what is your intention for this safe room."
The information below covers disaster preparedness. For home invasion safe or panic rooms, refer to the resource section at the end.
Choosing a Safe Room
Look for a room or space with no windows, preferably using an inside wall.
WHN Expert Tip: "Inside is always best," says Rick Tobin, TAO Emergency Management Consultant. "It's safer than the existing structure around you but there's no such thing as absolutely safe."
WHN Expert Tip: No basement? A bathroom, closet or pantry can work as alternative safe rooms because of their absence of windows, says Buzz Weiss, Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).
Building a Safe Room
Don't have a safe location like this in your home? You can always choose to retrofit your home and build a newer safe room or a storm cellar — at a price.
"The cost for constructing a safe room inside a new house is between $2,500 and $6,000," says Weiss. "This cost depends on the type of foundation on which your house is built and the size and location of the shelter."
WHN Expert Tip: Measure the potential safe room space to make sure it's large enough for you and your family (and perhaps your pets!). After creating it, secure down any heavy items and clear clutter so that you won't be injured by falling objects.
FEMA suggests several places where you can build your safe room:
Atop a concrete slab-on-grade foundation or garage floor.
An interior room on the first floor.
"But be sure that walls that are used as walls of the safe room are separated from the structure of the residence so that damage to the residence will not cause damage to the safe room," says Weiss. If you do build a safe room in the basement, "below-ground safe rooms must be designed to avoid accumulating water during the heavy rains that often accompany severe windstorms."
WHN Expert Tip: Special Needs
If you or your family has any special accessibility needs, consider these when creating your safe room. For example, if someone in your family has a handicap and cannot descend stairs, the basement would not be your first choice for a safe room. Consider an interior first floor safe room instead.
WHN Expert Tip: Going Pre-Fab
"Prefabricated manufactured shelters or safe rooms are also available – they can require less building construction experience to successfully install. You should always ask for documentation to see that it meets FEMA's recommendations. Prefab safe rooms must be securely anchored to their foundations. Prefab safe rooms must also have adequate ventilation." Buzz Weiss, GEMA
Ask your local building office or emergency managements if funds and grants available for retrofitting, says Tobin.
Ask your home owner's or flood insurance agent if retrofitting or disaster preparedness improvements will lower your premiums.
Using the Safe Room
WHN Expert Tip: Extra Storage Space
"A safe room can double as a master closet, bathroom or utility room as long as you keep its main purpose in mind by always having emergency supplies [and enough space for you and your family] readily available." Buzz Weiss, GEMA
Equip the safe room with emergency preparedness items or your Home Grab-and-Go Kit.
Make sure you can leave the safe room quickly if you need to evacuate.
Top must-have items in your safe room:
- Portable hand-crank weather radio
- Flashlight and batteries
- First aid kit
Make a plan to get to the safe room in a hurry. "When you hear that [tornado] train sound, you'll want to be able to crawl around the coffee table in the dark to get that safe room," says Tobin.
Practice the plan each month to keep it fresh and try to improve on your time. "Because warning times for tornadoes can be very short, quick access to the safe room is important in choosing a location," says Weiss.
Before building a safe room, read FEMA's publication, Taking Shelter From the Storm: Building a Safe Room Inside Your House, for specific construction plans and specifications.
FEMA – Safe Rooms and Resources
CrimeDoctor.com – Panic and Safe Rooms
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