Demystifying Storm Shelter Requirements

Deep Dive on Storm Shelter Closures

Tornado Safe Room

Does your school need a tornado safe room?

Any new schools built that are in an area that has an increased risk of tornadoes and the state or locality has adopted IBC 2015 or newer (identified as the 250 mph wind zone), may have to incorporate a tornado safe room into their buildings.


Even if you’re not in the mandated tornado shelter area, you need to be prepared. Pennsylvania, for example, experienced an average of 11 tornadoes per year from 2012 to 2016 even though it lies squarely outside of the 250 mph zone. In 2017, the Pennsylvania tornado number rose to 26; in 2018 it jumped again to 31. At the time of this e-book writing, in May, we’re in our third day of tornado watches and warnings. If my school had a tornado safe room, I’d feel more secure that my children were safe. My kids’ school has an area that is “safer” in a tornado (known in the code world as “best available refuge”) but I now know that there is no guarantee of life safety in that space. Only ICC-500 rated storm shelters can provide the kind of safety that eases my mind as a mother. Schools must take a hard look at all factors in deciding if a storm shelter makes sense for them—not just if they are in a mandated area.


Want more tornado safe room details? You can find out more in our e-book “Demystifying Storm Shelters”.


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Tornado Safe Room - Tornado Alley


Any state or locality that has adopted IBC 2015 or newer, is in an area that has an increased risk or tornadoes (identified as the 250 MPH wind zone.) These areas are required to have a storm shelter meeting the FEMA-361 requirements for all K-12 schools with 50 occupants or more, 911 call stations, police stations, fire, rescue and ambulance stations and more.

Tornado Safe Room- Hurricane vs Tornadoes


Tornadoes come on more instantly, so the pressure cannot equalize the way it can during a hurricane. When building a storm shelter for a hurricane area, you are building for duration more so than intensity. Tornadoes generally are quick, but have extremely high winds throwing all sorts of different projectiles at high rates of speed.

Tornado Safe Room- Schools Shelters



An interior room, or a space within a building, or an entirely separate building, designed and constructed to provide a near-absolute life-safety projection for its occupants from tornadoes or hurricanes. The most common rooms to be converted into storm shelters are cafeterias, gymnasiums, and classroom pods.


What wind speed does your area need to withstand?

ICC500 250mph zone

Wind zones are areas of the United States that get (on average) different maximum speed winds. The higher the winds, the higher the chance of a tornado or hurricane and the more damage it can do. This does not mean, however, that the surrounding areas are not of concern. Even in the 160 mph zone, tornadoes can develop and cause devastating damage to the area. 160 mph can still tear off roofs and turn over cars. These areas are generally less prepared for a storm of this magnitude, since they are less likely. When you are under prepared it can in turn have a greater impact on the people and the possessions in that area.